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PBS and Affiliates Unveil Cable Channel for Cultural Events

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The Public Broadcasting Service and two of its flagship television stations last week announced the launch of a new cable channel that will focus on intellectual and cultural events.

The channel, called Horizons TV, will telecast events such as lectures, academic debates, and literary readings from universities, museums, libraries, and arts centers around the country, said Lawrence K. Grossman, a former president of PBS and of NBC News, who is spearheading the venture.

Along with PBS, the partners in the project are WGBH in Boston and WNET in New York City.

Mr. Grossman called the new channel the "cultural and intellectual counterpart to C-SPAN,'' the cable network that airs sessions of Congress and other public-affairs events.

Or, in another comparison to cable's current offerings, the channel "will be the intellectual crowd's version of MTV,'' he said in an interview.

Mr. Grossman said he envisions, for example, that it might include Stephen Jay Gould lecturing on science, Derek Wolcott and Alice Walker reading literature, or Norman Mailer debating the future of the novel.

The organizers hope to launch Horizons TV by the end of 1994. The channel will be a separate, nonprofit corporation steered by public-television officials and other directors.

Start-up funding is coming from PBS, WGBH, and WNET, with other funds expected from foundations and other sponsors. Once on the air, organizers said, the channel will sustain itself with license fees from cable operators and revenue from limited advertising that will not interrupt programs.

Free Service to Schools?

Mr. Grossman said he expects Horizons TV to draw viewers who do not currently watch much television and do not subscribe to cable.

"There are millions of people who go to lectures and take extension courses at universities,'' he said. "Our hunch is that there would be a surprising number of people who would like to have access to this.''

Unlike PBS's adult-learning service and cable's Mind Extension University, which offer televised courses for college credit, Horizons TV will not offer academic credit.

However, organizers said they hoped cable operators would see it as an attractive service to offer free of charge to schools, much as they promote C-SPAN and other channels for educational use.

"I am sure there will be programs that will be of considerable interest to high-school-level audiences,'' said Henry Becton Jr., the president and general manager of WGBH.

Advent of 500 Channels

Public-television officials cited technological advances and the coming arrival of a 500-channel cable system as fueling the need for more programming services.

"The advent of channel-compression technology by mid-decade and the widespread installation of fiber-optic cable will make room on the television dial for many more viewing options,'' Robert G. Ottenhoff, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of PBS, said at a May 18 news conference at the New York Public Library held to announce the new channel.

Other networks have also announced plans for new cable services to take advantage of future channel capacity. For example, the Arts & Entertainment Network next year will launch H-TV, the History TV network, a channel devoted to historical documentaries, movies, and mini-series.

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