NEW YORK — An ABC affiliate in Honolulu is gearing up to become the first TV station in the country to transform itself into a fully digital operation.
The station, KITV, owned by Argyle TV, has spent the last two years constructing the tower, transmitter and antenna, at a cost of $15 million, and will begin sending out a digital-quality TV signal Dec. 1. Argyle, which owns six other TV stations, will wrap up its merger agreement with Hearst Broadcasting, which owns six TV stations, including WCVB Boston, on Aug. 29. The parties will rename the merged company Hearst-Argyle Television Inc.
“We’ll be looking to do partnerships with the people in Honolulu who sell TV sets.” says Mike Rosenberg, G.M. of KITV, so that there’ll be somebody in the community able to receive the sharper pictures and better sound. And when the ABC network starts transmitting experimental high-definition programming in 1998, KITV will be fully equipped to get that signal into the homes of people with high-def TV sets.
Bob Marbut, chairman and CEO of Argyle, says that although “it’ll be a long time before high-definition programming will run across the entire schedule, I could see the networks using it for event programming like big movies and sports events in primetime.”
But during time periods when news shows and talkshows predominate, the extra digital band width could be given over to what Marbut calls “multiplexed signals.” TV stations could use these additional channels as, for example, another outlet for cable networks like ESPN, which is owned by ABC; the Fox-owned FX entertainment network; NBC-owned CNBC; and TNN: The Nashville Network, which is about to become a part of CBS.
None of these networks are exclusive to the cable systems that serve Honolulu residents, 85% of whom subscribe to cable because the landscape is crawling with mountains that make over-the-air reception unpredictable at best.
Rosenberg says that during the times KITV is not using up all of its digital band width for one HDTV signal, the station could send out as many as four channels with top-quality picture and sound, plus other services like high-speed access to the Internet and to various financial-data streams.
The reason Argyle chose KITV as a digital laboratory, Marbut says, is that “three years ago we began planning to construct a new facility in Honolulu and then decided why not go all the way and make it high def.”