CO-CHAIRS: Leslie Moonves; Norman Ornstein


(Meeting transcript available on Committee website,

TIME and PLACE: January 16, 1998, at the Hotel Madison in Washington, D.C.

PURPOSE: Third meeting held to discuss the technology of digital broadcasting and its implications for new programming services and to explore three areas to which public interest obligations could attach: closed captioning and video description of broadcast programming, natural disaster information systems, and educational programming.

ESTIMATED SIZE OF AUDIENCE: 60 in the Mt. Vernon Salon


Norman J. Ornstein, Co-Chair
Resident Scholar
American Enterprise Institute

Leslie Moonves, Co-Chair
CBS Television

Charles Benton
Chairman and CEO
Benton Foundation
Public Media, Inc.

Frank M. Blythe
Executive Director
Native American Public Telecommunications, Inc.

Peggy Charren
Visiting Scholar
Harvard University Graduate School of Education
Founder, Action for Children's Television

Harold C. Crump
Vice President
Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc.

Frank H. Cruz
Vice Chairman
Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Robert W. Decherd
CEO, Chairman of the Board, and President
A. H. Belo Corporation

William F. Duhamel, Ph.D.
Duhamel Broadcasting Enterprises

Robert D. Glaser
Chairman and CEO
RealNetworks, Inc.

Paul A. La Camera
President and General Manager

Gigi B. Sohn
Executive Director
Media Access Project

Karen Peltz Strauss
Legal Counsel for Telecommunications Policy
National Association of the Deaf

Cass R. Sunstein
Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor
University of Chicago Law School

Lois Jean White
National Parent Teacher Association

Karen M. Edwards, Designated Federal Officer

Anne Stauffer, Committee Liaison Officer

The following brief summary of the meeting may be supplemented by the official meeting transcript.


The third meeting of the Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters (Advisory Committee or PIAC) began at 8:53 a.m. on Friday, January 16, 1998, with brief remarks from the Co-Chairs.

Mr. Leslie Moonves, President of CBS Television and Co-Chair of the Advisory Committee, convened the meeting and welcomed the members. He then reviewed the Committee's upcoming meeting schedule:

Monday, March 2, 1998

Meeting to be held in Los Angeles, CA, likely hosted by the USC Annenberg School for Communication;

Tuesday, April 14, 1998

Meeting to be held in Washington, DC;

Monday, June 8, 1998

Meeting to be held in Minneapolis, MN, hosted by Committee member Harold Crump.

Mr. Moonves also advised the group that an official request to extend the Committee's June 1, 1998 deadline would be forwarded to the White House shortly.

Co-Chair Norman Ornstein, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, announced that the meeting was available live over C-SPAN and via RealNetworks' RealAudio broadcast over the Internet. He also noted that Japan's National Public Television, NHK, was filming the meeting as part of a documentary on digital television.

PANEL: The Technology of Digital Broadcasting and the Implications for New Programming Services

This technology panel was organized and moderated by Committee member Robert Glaser. Panelists were Bruce Allan, Vice President and General Manager of Harris Corporation's Broadcast Division; and Josh Bernoff, Principal Analyst with Forrester Research.

Testimony of Bruce Allan, Harris Corporation

Bruce Allan discussed the results of a survey conducted by Harris Corporation of broadcasters' plans, attitudes, and current status regarding the implementation of digital television. He also outlined the implementation schedule for digital television (DTV) and recent forecasts about receiver availability in order to set the stage for a fruitful debate about new programming services and other capabilities of digital technology.

Mr. Allan explained that the Harris survey was designed to track changes in broadcasters' attitudes toward and emerging trends in plans for the transition to DTV. Harris interviewed 401 top broadcast executives. Mr. Allan reported the following survey findings:

(i) that broadcasters are moving even faster than the FCC requires to implement DTV-- 93 percent of broadcasters say they will offer DTV by 2002;

(ii) that the transition to digital will be more affordable than broadcasters originally estimated;

(iii) that equipment costs are rapidly decreasing, with the average cost of conversion estimated at $5.7 million;

(iv) that 33 percent of broadcasters are planning to experiment with multicasting, while 44 percent are unsure of the programming format they will pursue; and

(v) that some broadcasters plan to use the additional channels and the flexibility of digital technology to infuse more local content into their programming day and to serve the local audience in ways that have not been possible in the past.

Mr. Allan concluded that most of the implementation issues surrounding digital television have been or will soon be resolved. For example, he noted that 14 different manufacturers have made the necessary investments to make digital television sets available by the fall of 1998.

Testimony of Josh Bernoff, Forrester Research

Josh Bernoff described Forrester Research as an independent market research firm whose objective is to help its client companies thrive on technology change.

Mr. Bernoff shared the results of a qualitative, July 1997 survey about the future of digital television. Generally, Mr. Bernoff found that as of July 1997 about half of the 26 broadcasters he interviewed estimated a $3 million dollar investment to transition to digital, but were unclear about the benefits of the transition.

Based on the survey results, Mr. Bernoff made the following predictions about the market for digital television over the next 10 years:

(i) All 26 stations will not meet the deadlines set by Congress and the FCC, and will request short extensions from the FCC;

(ii) Digital receivers will be priced relatively high ($4000), and consumer electronics manufacturers will see relatively slow sales on all big screen sets in 1998, as consumers wait for affordable digital sets;

(iii) The PC audience will not significantly influence digital television programming for the foreseeable future, because, although it is less expensive to deliver digital television on a PC, the viewing experience is quite different and will not build audiences attractive to advertisers;

(iv) During the transition period when both digital and analog sets are still in use, broadcasters will face an important decision about whether to produce programming for digital or analog viewing since producing programming compatible with both will be prohibitively expensive;

(vi) By 2001, digital television sets will be readily available at a cost of around $500 and three percent of households in the United States will have purchased such sets;

(vii) In the early years of the transition to digital, much of the high definition programming available to consumers will come via satellite;

(viii) By 2004, the price differential between analog and digital television sets will be negligible and 23 percent of households will have digital sets;

(ix) By 2007, the rate of penetration for digital television will have increased to approximately 42 million households with either a digital converter or television set;

Mr. Bernoff concluded that throughout the transition to digital, broadcast network ratings would continue to decline in the face of competition from cable. He posited that after investing billions of dollars in the transition to digital, the broadcast industry may well be in a worse position than it is right now.

Presentation by Robert Glaser, RealNetworks

Robert Glaser discussed the relationship between the Internet and digital television . Mr. Glaser first reminded the members that the Internet is probably the most broad-based method of transmitting digital video today. He stated that in a two-month period (September to November 1997), the number of Web pages with video or audio increased 70 percent. He also estimated that over 20 million people globally experience video and audio on the Internet, a figure that has doubled in 1997 over 1996.

Using video clips from, Fox News, C-SPAN, and a movie trailer, Mr. Glaser then demonstrated the potential for transmitting video using a fraction of the bandwidth traditionally used for broadcasting. He concluded that such "data transmissions" have powerful implications because DTV bandwidth could be used not only for a single channel of high definition programming, or 10 channels of standard definition programming, but also for 50-400 discrete channels of video information.

A question and answer period followed these presentations. The major issues raised during that session included compression technology, the economic outlook for digital broadcasters, convergence, targeted advertising, and audience fragmentation.

BRIEFING: Closed captioning and video description of broadcast programming

This briefing was organized by Committee member Karen Peltz Strauss. The presenters were James Tucker, Superintendent, Maryland School for the Deaf; Larry Goldberg, Director, CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media; and Nolan Crabb, Editor, Braille Forum, American Council of the Blind.

Ms. Strauss gave a brief overview of closed captioning, including its legislative history and technical aspects. She stressed that as the digital age dawns, there will be more opportunity for interaction between viewers and television programs and the captioning of those interactive programs will become even more important.

James Tucker then spoke about the educational and other benefits of captioning. He explained that captioning benefits many other groups besides deaf and hard-of-hearing people such as children learning to read and people who rely on captions to understand television shows in airports or bars. He discussed how captioning contributes to his knowledge of the political process and makes him a more informed voter. Similarly, Mr. Tucker noted that captioning had added significant value to classrooms of both deaf and hearing students. Finally, he urged the Committee to consider the deaf community in crafting its recommendations and help facilitate full access to captioning technology in the new digital age.

Larry Goldberg discussed both closed captioning and video description (Descriptive Video Service or DVS). He urged broadcasters to continue captioning both analog and digital programming during the transition. He referred to the newly-developed captioning standard that exploits the enhanced picture and audio quality as well as new services and features of digital technology. Using a videotape simulation, he demonstrated how the standard, developed by a subcommittee of the Electronic Industries Association, would allow a user to control the size, font, and placement of the captions.

Mr. Goldberg stressed the importance of ensuring that the introduction of ancillary data services in the digital television era not impinge on the 9600 baud bandwidth set aside for captioning.

Mr. Goldberg and Nolan Crabb shifted the discussion to television access for blind and visually impaired people. Mr. Crabb explained that blind and visually impaired Americans are avid television viewers and watch as much television as sighted Americans. He explained that video description would not only have educational benefits but also would allow blind adults and children to participate more fully in social interactions centered around television viewing.

Mr. Goldberg concluded that in terms of broadcasters' public interest obligations serving deaf and blind people should be a simple "win-win" situation. He painted a picture of 34 million blind and low-vision people with credit cards in hand, ready and willing to pay as much as anyone else for the full gamut of digital services. He urged the Committee to help ensure that these consumers could be equal partners in the digital world.

A brief question and answer period followed this session.

BRIEFING: Natural Disaster Information Systems

Dr. Peter Ward, of the United States Geological Survey and Chairman of the Working Group on Natural Disaster Information Systems, addressed the group. Dr. Ward explained that the goal of the Working Group is to evaluate and foster ways to integrate public and private resources and infrastructure to ensure that the most accurate, timely, and technical information is available before and during natural disasters in order to save lives, reduce losses, and speed response and recovery.

He estimated that natural disasters cost approximately $52 billion per year and a single earthquake in the San Francisco bay area would incur losses upwards of $150 billion. He also explained that the newly-mandated emergency alert system may be inadequate because, among other things, it only requires stations to broadcast Federal information and not state or local disaster information.

Dr. Ward reasoned that the digital age brings exciting possibilities for warning people about natural disasters, including personalized and localized messages. He urged the Committee to recommend reserving a very small amount of bandwidth (several hundred bits) for a stream of official information about natural disasters.

A brief question and answer period followed this session.

PANEL: Educational Programming the Digital Era

This panel was organized by Committee member Peggy Charren. Panelists included Gordon Ambach, Executive Director, Council of State School Officers (CSSO); Janet Poley, President, American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC); Marilyn Gell Mason, Director, Cleveland Public Library; Fred Esplin, General Manager, KUED-TV, Salt Lake City, Utah; and Gary Poon, Executive Director, Digital Television Strategic Planning Office, PBS. The panelists made brief presentations, followed by a question and answer period.

Testimony of Gordon Ambach, CSSO

Gordon Ambach addressed the issue of broadcasters' public interest obligations from the perspective of elementary and secondary student achievement. He told the Committee that its recommendations in that regard should be exceptionally bold and commensurate with the high stakes of the Nation's information IQ in an internationally competitive environment.

Mr. Ambach then provided historical overview of the Federal government's involvement in meeting the Nation's educational needs. He also defined what he saw as the needs in elementary and secondary education to including access to information technology; access to timely, inexpensive databases; interactive distant direct teaching and learning; help with learning second languages; use of technology to conduct scientific experiments or operate complex machinery by simulation; and cost-effective, round-the-clock channels of communication for and among students, parents and teachers.

Mr. Ambach concluded that to use the capacity of digital television to meet these needs would require (i) imaginative decisions to dedicate entire channels or parts of channels to expand the size of the pipeline for educational information and communication, and (ii) a commitment of some of the revenue from the growth of digital television to create content for the pipeline.

Testimony of Janet Poley, ADEC

Janet Poley emphasized the importance of building a vibrant public and educational broadcasting sector during the transition to digital television. She urged the Committee to consider the digital revolution an opportunity to move from a mindset of scarcity to a mindset of abundance in terms of multiple channels and services.

Ms. Poley argued that broadcasters, in return for their exclusive use of a public good, should be required to carry an increased amount of educational and public interest programming located so it can be easily found and widely offered on an affordable basis.

Ms. Poley emphasized the need for a rich diversity of programming including programming on parenting and improving the lives of children and youth, health, lifelong learning, workforce technology, and virtual certificates and degrees. She specifically recommended that some space among the hundreds of digital channels be dedicated to accessible, educational programming. She discussed targeting particular channels to various audience segments and types of programs.

Testimony of Marilyn Gell Mason, Cleveland Public Library

Marilyn Gell Mason described the role of libraries in serving the educational needs of communities, especially traditionally underserved communities with little access to information and technology. She reminded the Committee that only one household in seven has access to the Internet.

Ms. Mason argued that with the advent of digital television, the public responsibilities of broadcasters will expand in direct proportion to expanded technical capabilities. She foresaw a rich opportunity for public libraries to work with broadcasters to ensure public access to information and identified an interactive library channel as one possible way to achieve this goal. A library channel, she suggested, would enable anyone without a computer or an Internet connection to access a full range of electronic library offerings.

Ms. Mason concluded that commercial and public interests are not always at war. She posited that in the context of digital television, they could exist in a symbiotic, mutually productive relationship.

Testimony of Fred Esplin, KUED-TV, Utah

Fred Esplin shared the perspectives of public broadcasters on how public television might better serve the public interest in the digital age. Mr. Esplin spoke of public broadcasters' commitment to education in early childhood services, technology integration in K through 12 education, workforce technology and education, and digital service accessibility.

Mr. Esplin noted that in order to realize the full potential of digital technology it would take a coordinated, active partnership among public broadcasters, schools, libraries, and colleges.

Testimony of Gary Poon, PBS

Gary Poon described the approach of noncommercial broadcasters to the transition to digital television. First, Mr. Poon explained that the members of PBS believe that digital television is "tailor-made" for public broadcasting. Second, he posited that public broadcasting could turn lifelong learning into customized services for the learners. Third, he argued that digital television provides a tremendous opportunity to fulfill the original vision of public broadcasting's founders.

Mr. Poon also encouraged the Committee to make recommendations to ensure that public broadcasting will be adequately funded for the digital future.

A question and answer period followed these presentations. The major issues raised during that session included whether a deregulatory approach to public interest obligations is appropriate since PBS is producing such a wealth of educational programming, whether a market-based incentives system might substitute for regulation, how not to create a larger group of information-poor citizens, and whether commercial broadcasters might be able to fulfill their public interest obligations by funding the work of public broadcasting.

Discussion of future agenda

The Committee agreed to begin deliberating about a framework for public interest obligations in the digital era at the next meeting on March 2 in Los Angeles.

The Committee tentatively outlined an agenda for the March 2 meeting to include discussion of political broadcasting and opportunities for independent programming, access, and new creative ventures in the digital age.

Public Comment, Questions and Answers

Mr. Moonves opened the floor to public comment. Annamarie Pluhar, Executive Director of The Television Project, asked the Committee to consider media literacy as a public interest obligation of broadcasters. Jim Dingeman spoke on behalf of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and requested that the Committee speak with representatives at the Center about the possibility of broadcasters airing information about missing and exploited children daily during highly-rated shows.

Mr. Moonves thanked the speakers and the Committee members and adjourned the meeting at 4:13 p.m.

Meeting Materials (available separately)


Leslie Moonves, Co-Chair

Norman Ornstein, Co-Chair