WUSF loses viewers after digital transition

USF students hoping to tune into WUSF-TV on Bright House Networks’ channel 16 may be greeted by a blue screen informing them that the station is only available in digital format.

Students are not the only viewers affected. Since its transition from analog to digital broadcasting June 12, WUSF has not been viewable to approximately 30 percent of Bright House’s customers in the area, said Joe Durkin, senior director of corporate communications for Bright House Networks.

JoAnn Urofsky, general manager of WUSF, said the station was removed from the Bright House basic tier cable package.

However, Durkin said WUSF is still available on all cable packages, but customers need either a digital cable box, a quadrature amplitude modulation tuner or a digital-ready television set to view the station.

“It wasn’t as simple as we just took (WUSF) off,” Durkin said. “That was the misperception out there – ‘Wait a minute, why did the cable company just shut off WUSF?’ Well, that’s not the case.”

Urofsky said Bright House informed WUSF of the change shortly prior to the digital transition, which made it difficult to inform the station’s viewers.

“We didn’t have contact from Bright House,” she said. “It was very difficult to get in touch with anyone there who could help with that information.”

Urofsky said she is unsure whether students living on campus can view WUSF in their rooms.

USF Housing and Residential Education could not be reached for comment.

The change follows a national agreement made in November between the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS), Durkin said.

Under the agreement, all major cable companies were required to choose a primary Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) station that would be shown in both digital and analog formats.

If more than one PBS station were broadcast in a market, the other stations would have to choose between digital and analog programming.

In the Tampa market, there are two PBS stations – WUSF and WEDU. Bright House selected WEDU as its primary PBS station, Durkin said.

“We chose WEDU for a couple of simple reasons. WEDU had a higher viewership. WEDU also broadcasted in high-def, and WEDU had a greater amount of PBS programs,” he said. “It actually made the decision easier for us.”

Durkin said that after WEDU was selected as the primary PBS station, WUSF chose to broadcast in digital format.

“We chose the digital channels because of the future of television – the future of
television is digital,” Urofsky said. “We developed these four channels – spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to do that – and we thought it would be a waste of money to revert to only showing one channel.”

On Bright House, WUSF’s four channels, WUSF TV, WUSF Kids, Create TV and Florida Knowledge Network, are viewable on channels 616 through 619, respectively.

Had WUSF chosen analog, the station would have broadcast to 100 percent of Bright House Network customers on only one channel, Durkin said. With digital programming, WUSF’s four channels are available to approximately 70 percent of Bright House

Since the change, Urofsky said WUSF has received hundreds of calls and e-mails from viewers complaining about not being able to view the station.

“The major complaint is that people don’t understand what happened,” she said. “The cable companies told them that if you were a cable subscriber, you didn’t need to worry and (WUSF) believed it, too. It made perfect sense. If you had cable, you didn’t need to worry about this.”

Urofksy said that in addition to removing WUSF from the basic cable tier, Bright House also took off the radio reading service for the blind.

Previously, when viewers pressed the SAP button on their remote while watching WUSF, they could hear local and national newspapers, magazines and other programs being read.

Urofsky said Bright House is looking into bringing back the reading service, but doubts it will happen.

Durkin said Bright House recognizes that some customers don’t want to become digital subscribers. As a result, the network has made a digital box available for $1 a month that will allow customers to view WUSF TV, as well as the station’s three other channels.

The converter will also provide customers with the four WEDU channels, the NASA channel and a number of weather channels.

“Change is never easy,” Durkin said. “But with the transition that (television) is going through, we’re trying to work with WUSF to make it easy for that 30 percent or less customer base that doesn’t have digital but wants to continue to enjoy WUSF programming.”

USF spokesman Michael Hoad said he hopes Bright House can work something out with WUSF.

“I think it’s important because there is now a lot more USF programming on WUSF,” he said. “In addition to the student-run program Florida Focus, I would like to work with the School of Mass Communications on doing a USF show.”

Urofsky said some viewers have canceled their WUSF memberships because they can no longer see the station.

“Its an unfortunate situation, mostly for our viewers, who love and rely on WUSF’s programming,” she said. “Some of the comments we have received have been ‘We’re really going to miss you because this is our favorite station.’ It’s kind of sad.”