Suddenly: Simulcast

There is a quiet digital-simulcast revolution underway inside the cable industry. A little over a year since Charter Communications Inc. first launched a digital simulcast system in Long Beach, Calif., digital simulcast has moved from a curious possibility to a “must-do-now” conversion for most cable operators.

All the major MSOs have announced plans to launch digital simulcast — or are actively launching it — in their systems. Charter Communications Inc. has added a second site in Madison, Wis., and Comcast Corp. has already rolled the technology in several markets.

Digital simulcast entails taking the current analog lineup, encoding the signals in digital, for transmission throughout the plant. The new all-digital lineup is transported alongside the legacy analog channels, still needed for those homes with analog TVs.

Although digital simulcast requires more bandwidth in the short-term, operators see it as a first step towards all digital, where upwards of two-thirds of cable’s spectrum could be reclaimed.

Overnight, digital subscribers will see better picture quality with an all-digital lineup. Operators hope to boost digital penetration past 50% with the allure of video-on-demand and other digital-tier services. Digital simulcast also requires operators to begin digital ad insertion in traditionally analog fed networks, like Cable News Network and ESPN.

Read about the revolution in a special report in Broadband Week, on page 73.