Local stations eye second channels

Freed up bandwidth presents new possibilities

Digital spectrum anyone?

With plenty of bandwith being freed up by the switch to digital in February, local stations are pondering how to program their secondary digital channels, and the broadcast networks are staying out of the game … so far.

If the nets are planning new programming services — ABC Men? CBS Reality? Fox Cartoon Channel? NBC Law & Order? — they’re staying mum.

Station execs note that the networks have enough issues programming their main channels to seriously start contemplating secondary outlets. What’s more, there’s no guarantee of distribution beyond their owned-and-operated outfits, as affiliates are likely more interested in controlling their own digital space.

Nonetheless, as more stations upgrade to digital — and the Feb. 17 shutoff of analog looms — local broadcasters are now faced with an unprecedented opportunity to program second and third digital channels.

In smaller markets, stations have added the CW or My Network TV to their digital channels, providing a real, fulltime programming service. Others, such as the NBC-owned outlets, have gone with all-weather channels (in the Peacock stations’ case, ‘NBC Weather Plus’; others run AccuWeather programming).

In Los Angeles, KNBC broadcasts NBC Weather Plus on one digital channel, while another is the experimental News Raw, a newschannel that follows the goings-on in the station’s newsroom.

KABC uses its ABC7 Plus channel to run rebroadcasts of its newscasts and other programs.

Around the country, stations are also using their digital subchannels to run newer program services such as the Los Angeles-based LATV, which targets bilingual young Latinos. Several stations have picked up Retro Television Network, which airs classic TV shows and films.

Will the networks enter the game? One station exec is skeptical.

“You’ll never get affiliates to sign on,” he says. “It’s all money. We’re interested in doing our own thing — that way we can own it, control it and program it.”

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