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"The Future of Television" - Cutting-Edge Technology

Nightly Business Report

SUSIE GHARIB: Another step today in the nation's switch from analog to digital television. At a Best Buy store in Washington DC this morning, officials from the Federal Communications Commission showed off the new digital converter boxes, which go on sale in 10 days. The boxes will let viewers with stand-alone analog sets that rely on over the air transmissions, receive digital signals next year. The government is offering a $40 rebate coupon to help defray the cost of buying the box.

Those converter boxes will be key next February, when the main part of the analog to digital switch takes place. This week we're looking at the changing nature of the broadcasting industry. Tonight, as we wrap up our series "The Future of Television," New York bureau chief Scott Gurvey looks at how new video technology is changing more than just TV.

SCOTT GURVEY, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: The conversion of broadcast television from analog to digital is scheduled for completion on February 17 of next year. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin says it is important that policy makers insure everyone is ready.

KEVIN MARTIN, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION: I think it's going to be both an interesting and a challenging time to make sure that the broadcasters have done all that they can to prepared for that DTV transition and that consumers are aware of it and are doing all that they need to do to make certain that they are still able to be receiving their television signals.

GURVEY: But as Martin explains, the digital conversion offers opportunities for a television future well beyond better pictures and sound.

MARTIN: Some of the other changes that we're talking about really are going to be even more significant from the consumer perspective in the long run. Like I said, the ability that consumers are going to be able to have to be able to watch their videos and whatever video they want and wherever they want it and whenever they want it is going to be even more transforming.

GURVEY: HBO already distributes its mix of theatrical and original movies and series on multiple channels and through video on demand. HBO is also testing TV on mobile devices, but executive David Baldwin says that is not ready for prime time.

DAVID BALDWIN, EX VP, PROGRAM PLANNING HBO/CINEMAX: I think the thing that has held us back in cell phones (ph) domestically obviously is that the networks are not built yet. But when they have it, of course, I mean, television will be everywhere, all the time, for everyone.

GURVEY: The future of television is also interactive, perhaps employing technologies now found on alternate reality web sites like Second Life. In this model, the audience will play an active role. Comcast VP Charles Cerino says his network is already capable of providing the technology creators need for interactive content.

CHARLES CERINO, VP NEW MEDIA, COMCAST: All our digital devices are two way, so you're constantly interacting even if you don't realize you're doing that. And obviously our high speed data product is two way and our digital phones are two way, so you know the fiber optic technology that came along in the nineties was readily adopted by the cable industry.

GURVEY: Some predict we will, one day, cast our votes through interactive television. That seems far off but the video cameras found in many mobile phones are already having an impact on politics. Anything a candidate says is now likely to be recorded and quickly posted to a video sharing site. Politicians can run, but they cannot hide. The number of television channels carrying news and information has grown along with the number of channels in general. Interestingly, Princeton Professor Marcus Prior, author of a study titled "Post-Broadcast Democracy", says this is making news junkies more involved, but moderates less.

MARKUS PRIOR, AUTHOR, POST-BROADCAST DEMOCRACY: Those are exactly the people who don't care very much about the news, who don't care very much about politics. So they become less informed because of all this choice. They do other things.

GURVEY: Television has always evolved with the technology. Color followed black and white. Cable and satellite added channels and the concept of pay TV. Now digital improves quality and adds mobility. Al Lieberman of NYU says the term television may be obsolete, but the basic model of creating and delivering content, remains.

AL LIEBERMAN, PROFESSOR, NYU STERN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: It's a very exciting time for people to be in the media business, specifically, all of these aspects of television. And I say all of these aspects because in a way television soon will become kind of an antique word, a descriptive. And it's really going to be content delivery, I think. And even that sounds too fancy. It's anyway that you can watch the programming.

GURVEY: And it is any way you can make the programming. Take a software product called Visual Communicator from Adobe, put on a mid-range Dell computer, add a web-cam from Logitech and you get yourself a powerful do-it-yourself studio for about $1,500. Is this the future of television? Not totally. But it is a growing part of the video revolution. Come on and join the fun. Scott Gurvey, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, New York.