Digital Pioneer The Tube Is No More

Digital broadcasting is bringing new channels—and new failures.


The Tube went dark this week, leaving us antenna-using TV watchers with one less channel to view. Started by one of the folks who launched MTV, the Tube offered 24 hours of music videos in free, over-the-air broadcasts. It was one of several now-failed ventures that tried to take advantage of new bandwidth available through digital broadcasts.

The feds have decreed that broadcasts will become all-digital in early 2009. In making the switch, stations get room for multiple channels and are trying to profit from the added bandwidth. Another pioneer was U.S. Digital Television, which bought bandwidth from local channels to sell its own, cablelike programming for a fee. USDTV went dark earlier this year.

The Tube's founder, Les Garland, was using the digital broadcasts to get onto cable systems, which often must carry a second channel offered by local stations. The Tube made it to 71 cities through deals with broadcasters like Tribune and Sinclair, but even then it didn't draw enough eyes to sell ads. The company had also hoped to sell music seen on the channel, which was aimed at baby boomers, with a lot of videos from the 1970s and 1980s. Those folks probably most miss music videos on MTV—and more of their music was clean enough to pass broadcast censors.

Living without cable or satellite service, my house is now down to a total of 15 channels, including three still broadcasting in blurry, fuzzy analog. There is hope, though: The channel that the Tube occupied has a message saying something new is coming. We can only hope.


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