More channel changes are coming for Comcast cable customers next month, and reactions will probably be mixed.
Subscribers to digital cable who have been clamoring for more high definiton channels should be satisfied, but standard cable subscribers, especially those on a fixed income, may not be happy to see channels migrating to a more expensive tier of service.
The changes Comcast announced this week mirror some of those made in Penn Hills late last year. This time the changes affect traditional Comcast systems in Pittsburgh and the suburbs as well as cable systems in Monroeville, Bethel Park, Penn Hills, Murrysville/Plum and Greensburg. Because the changes can vary by area, your best bet to find specific channel numbers for your home is to visit Comcast's new Web site -- ComcastDigitalWorld.com or call Comcast at 1-800-COMCAST. The changes go into effect July 15 on traditional Comcast systems and on July 17 on former Adelphia systems.
On traditional Comcast city and suburban systems, Ion moves to Channel 124 on digital classic ($68.93 per month currently on suburban systems). G4 moves to Channel 162, Oxygen moves to Channel 177, MSNBC moves to Channel 183, TruTV moves to Channel 185 and Hallmark moves to Channel 187, all on the digital starter tier ($58.98). All these channels are now part of Comcast's standard cable package ($54.99).
In addition, two channels will remain part of the basic level of service ($12.45), but they will require a digital converter or CableCARD to be received. TV Guide Network moves to Channel 182 and EWTN moves to Channel 184. The TV Guide move will mean that analog customers will no longer have an on-screen programming guide.
Those analog subscribers will be offered one free converter box for one year (normally $3.99 per month) and additional boxes for $1.99 per month per box for a year (normally $5.99 per box per month). Current digital customers with one box can get up to two more for $1.99 per month each for 12 months, but boxes already in place will not be discounted. These offers are good until Aug. 30.
The good news for fans of high definition is the addition of at least five HD channels within a week of the other channel changes, including a dedicated FSN-P spot (Channel 250), WPCW (Channel 216), AMC (Channel 227), Animal Planet (Channel 224) and TLC (Channel 222).
Kids network Qubo (Channel 125) and Ion Life (Channel 136) also will join the Comcast digital classic offerings.
Other changes: Fit TV migrates from digital preferred ($71.93 on traditional Comcast suburban systems) to the lower-priced digital classic level of service and the following standard cable channels get new channel assignments (in parentheses): Versus (30), Golf Channel (31), CNBC (36), TNT (52), FX (55), BET (56) and Style (59).
Why all these changes? It's all an effort to provide more HD channels and faster Internet service. Comcast spokesman Bob Grove said migrating channels from analog to digital allows for the creation of additional HD channels.
Grove said because of customer demand, Comcast is dedicated to offering more than 1,000 HD choices -- channels and on-demand programming -- by the end of the year.
"To deliver this enhancement and continue to introduce advanced digital services and faster Internet speeds, we are adjusting the carriage of a small number of analog cable networks, moving them to our digital lineup," he said. "This move will not impact the majority of our customers who are already experiencing the choice and control of digital cable and will continue to receive this programming without interruption."
He also notes that Comcast is the only cable provider in the affected areas that still offers an analog level of service. (Comcast went nearly all-digital in Chicago last July with just 34 analog channels remaining. Pittsburgh will still have 56 analog standard channels after these changes take place.)
When Penn Hills went through this migration last year, some conspiracy-minded viewers thought the move of MSNBC was an effort to limit the reach of liberal anchor Keith Olbermann. I don't think that's the case, especially since Comcast owns G4, which will also move to digital.
"These decisions have been made based on a combination of contractual rights and customer feedback," Grove said.
Many of these changes from analog to digital tiers are happening on Comcast systems nationwide. MSNBC is in the loop on Comcast's changes, even if network executives don't like them.
"Comcast is the sole decision maker on where to carry MSNBC on its cable systems. NBC Universal is unhappy and disappointed with Comcast's recent decision to migrate MSNBC to it's digi-starter package, requiring customers to get a digital box, and we've made Comcast aware of our sentiments," said Jeremy Gaines, vice president of communications at MSNBC. " ... Rest assured that we want MSNBC to reach the widest number of viewers possible."
In addition to the five HD channels that will be added to most area systems, Penn Hills will get an additional mix of 19 new HD and digital channels. Folks in Ross and Castle Shannon, who always seem to be left out of these HD upgrades, will get the same mix of new channels as Penn Hills, including nine HD channels: AMC, Animal Planet, CNN, Discovery, FSN-P, Sci Fi, TBS, TLC and WPCW. The changes in Ross and Castle Shannon will take place on Aug. 19.
Comcast will notify customers of its changes by mail. New channel lineup cards will not be provided automatically, but will be sent to customers who request them. The channel conversion chart in the Post-Gazette's TV Week will be updated to reflect these changes beginning with the July 13 edition.
PBS's decision to cut the number of times per week it transmits "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" to member stations from five to one -- virtually ensuring that many stations, perhaps even the majority, won't air it daily -- is short-sighted and detrimental to future generations.
Kudos to Pittsburgh's PBS station, WQED, for announcing plans to continue to air the show Monday through Friday (not that station officials realistically had any other choice given the likely local outcry if they benched the show). The "Neighborhood" may not have the ratings of PBS's "Curious George" or "Clifford," but it has a genuine, caring real person at its center. You won't find that in PBS's more popular animated shows.
Even though the show has been in reruns for almost seven years, the topics Fred Rogers covers in "Neighborhood" reruns are applicable to every generation, not just children who grew up in the '60s and '70s.
PBS needs to rethink its plan. It would be one thing if this move was simply about cutting off access to an icon. But Rogers was much more than that. An educator, nurturer and advocate for childhood growth and emotional development, Rogers' style of simply stated life lessons are still relevant today, and possibly more neccesary than ever.
FX's "The Shield" returns for its final season Sept. 2. ... Actor Rocky Carroll, who has previously had a recurring role as Leon Vance, will join "NCIS" as a series regular this fall. His character has been promoted to director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. ... "The Best of 'Mad Men' Season One," a 30-minute special, premieres at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, featuring cast reminiscences. ... Lifetime's "Army Wives" returned for its second season Sunday and drew 4.5 million viewers, its best showing ever. The season premiere of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" on USA also drew 4.5 million, a 21 percent increase from its October season premiere. The season two premiere of "Ice Road Truckers" on History averaged 3.9 million viewers, up 15 percent from its series premiere last summer. ... Jordan Kart of Pittsburgh will be a contestant on CBS's "The Price Is Right" (11 a.m. weekdays, KDKA) next Friday.
Beginning Sunday, the channel conversion chart on page 3 of the PG's TV Week will include channel numbers for Verizon FiOS and more HD channel numbers for all cable TV providers.
This week's edition features my interview with actress Nancy Travis, star of TBS's "The Bill Engvall Show," during her visit to Pittsburgh last week. Listen or subscribe at post-gazette.com/podcast.