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Execs Discount BCasters Multicasting Plan

Hollywood -- While cable operators wait to hear how
broadcasters plan to use their new digital spectrum, executives from a number of
television industries last week predicted that multicasting -- at least in primetime --
would not play a big role.

The consensus at the Digital Entertainment Summit here,
hosted by Kagan Seminars Inc., was that running a single high-definition television signal
was a more competitive use of digital bandwidth than running a handful of
standard-definition television channels.

Multicasting could cannibalize a local station's own
audience, said Tony Cassara, president of Paramount Stations Group.

When asked whether a station might use multiple SDTV
channels to help viewers time-shift their favorite programs, Cassara answered that anyone
can time-shift today with a VCR.

'I don't think this is about time-shifting,'
he said. 'It's about better pictures.'

Time-shifting could go so far as to reduce viewership,
rather than increasing it, Cassara suggested.

'The more opportunities you make something
available,' he said, 'the less valuable it becomes.'

For example, viewers make an appointment with NBC each
Thursday to watch Seinfeld.

'Multiplexing was all the rage about 12 months
ago,' said Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers
Association and a strong proponent of HDTV. 'I just don't hear that any

It's not politically correct for a broadcaster to say
that it will forego HDTV for full-time multiplexing. But Shapiro said there are business
considerations, too.

'I don't know how broadcasters will be able to
get people to pay for additional channels when there are so many more things to choose
from,' he said.

By government mandate, broadcasters that sell multichannel
subscriptions would still have to reserve at least one channel for free, over-the-air
service. In addition, they would be required to pay a percentage of any subscription
revenues to the government for the use of the spectrum.

Still no one denied that multicasting will play some role
in digital broadcasting, especially during daytime hours.

Television manufacturers are watching the issue to make
sure that digital televisions will be interoperable with whatever data-encryption and
conditional-access systems the broadcasters choose.

Cable is also worried that the government will force
must-carry regulations on multicasted services.