MSOs Give PBS Digital Aid in South Carolina


A new channel, programmed by PBS and available only on digital cable, launched in parts of South Carolina last Wednesday (Oct. 1).

The South Carolina Channel led off with a program featuring native son Gen. Charles Bolden, a former commander at NASA, then segued into coverage of the 10-day state fair.

Backers said the channel would run 24/7, and offer programming ranging from the state's General Assembly sessions and committee meetings and hearings to student symphonies and lectures at local universities.

The launch was made possible, in part, by a commitment from the state's two largest cable operators. Time Warner Cable has slotted the new network on channel 802 on its digital tier, available to midland systems around Columbia, while Comcast Corp.'s Charleston system offers it on channel 192.

A smaller operator, Comporium Communications in the Charlotte, N.C., suburbs, is carrying the service on digital channel 202.

Lacking digital must-carry clout, second- and third-tier PBS affiliates — even in major markets — are fearful of being left behind by the digital transition. PBS lobbyists have even advised local stations to consider asking municipalities for full PBS carriage in their upcoming refranchising talks.

To date, only Time Warner and Insight Communications Co. have agreed to carry digital PBS programming as more channels are developed.

South Carolina has a PBS network of 11 stations, dubbed ETV, with the hub, WRJA, located in Sumpter. The first member station went digital in March of 2000, simulcasting the analog PBS feed, ETV vice president of communications Reba Campbell said.

When ETV executives approached Time Warner about a digital slot, "they signed on immediately," she said. "They saw the value immediately. They're a strong community player themselves."

Time Warner also ran fiber to the SCETV offices for a hard connection to the network. Most recently, the operator allowed SCETV to place channel promotional literature in cable billing statements, providing free access to 300,000 cable subscribers, she said.

Time Warner will also co-host the SCETV "Living Room of the Future" exhibit at the state fair. There, Time Warner will be able to promote its advanced products and SCETV can get the word out about its new content.

Campbell couldn't estimate when the venture will expand its digital delivery.

PBS has solicited a channel spot from Charter Communications Inc. in Greenville, but has yet to receive a response.

South Carolina is also served by dozens of independent cable operations, she added, and not all of them have gone digital.