SAN DIEGO — The satellite dishes on top of a handful of businesses in San Diego aren't there to intercept television signals from HBO or the Playboy Channel. Rather, they have been installed to capture Public Broadcasting Service business programming that, starting Monday, is being "narrowcast" to businesses in 22 cities across the country.
PBS and its affiliates believe that the first-of-a-kind broadcasting system demonstration could lead to a change in the way businesses educate employees.
"My dream is to provide service to a very broad spectrum of the business community, to the hospitals, law firms, retail stores and corporate headquarters buildings," said Paul Steen, general manager of KPBS in San Diego. "We hope to come up with a (program) menu that is very attractive to many individuals."
Although the technology is not new--for two years San Diego State University has narrowcast engineering courses through its PROFNET system--Steen said PBS' "National Narrowcast Service" was the first national application of narrowcast technology. The narrowcast signals are beamed from space satellites to PBS affiliates, which use a microwave transmission system to beam the signals to participating companies and colleges.
Steen, who was an early champion of the narrowcast technology, has spent the past nine months shepherding the development of the narrowcast system in Washington and San Diego.
PBS has gained required Federal Communications Commission licenses, located money to finance the demonstration and determined which courses would be offered.
PBS relied on outside producers for programming to be beamed during the demonstration project which began Monday.
PBS will provide five daily hours of programming that includes something for everyone. The courses range from technical subjects--including the wiring of direct current circuits and programming for a microcomputer--to the decidely non-technical--how to deliver a better speech or cope with stress.
The narrowcast series, which will provide 375 hours of programming through mid-May, will also feature five seminars which will focus on AIDS, product liability, "right-to-know" legislation, mergers and acquisitions, and the financing of small to mid-size businesses.
PBS is using materials from some well-established production organizations, said Marianna Seeley, an information specialist with Burroughs Corp. in Rancho Bernardo.
More than 10 San Diego companies and colleges, including Home Federal Savings & Loan, Teledyne Ryan Electronics, Burroughs' microcomponents group, Cubic Corp., Loral Industries, Palomar College and Mira Mesa College, are receiving programming.
Some of those organizations have previous narrowcast experience.
Burroughs and Teledyne Ryan Electronics employees have been able to pursue degree and continuing education programs narrowcast by San Diego State University and UC San Diego.
"I think we're pioneering something," Seeley said. "We hear a lot about narrowcasting's role in the future and foresee some cost savings."
Teledyne Ryan Electronics viewed the narrowcasting demonstration as "an opportunity to provide our people with some more information, some more resources to do their jobs better," said Gunnar Schalin, advanced programs administrator for Teledyne Ryan Electronics in Kearny Mesa. "We have been hooked up on (SDSU's) PROFNET, and the cost/benefit ratio looked really good so we decided that we would participate."
Interestingly, the demonstration project's "personal development" and personal computer programming has drawn the most interest at Teledyne Ryan Electronics and Burroughs.
PBS will widen its narrowcast project into a nationally available service in the fall, Steen said.
Steen predicted that more rapid growth will occur once commercial operators enter the narrowcasting field.
"As the costs drop, the microwave equipment (which now costs about $1,500) will become more affordable," Steen said. "We're going to show that this kind of programming is viable and that this kind of system really will work."