Time Warner Cable customers who count on PANDA broadcasting, particularly for local town and village board meetings, may have been thrown for a loop recently when the channel switched to all-digital format.
In a letter to customers dated June 21, TWC explained the change this way: “Starting on or about July 23, 2013, local Public, Educational and Government access programming will be delivered in digital format only. These channels will remain in your existing package, however they will only be viewable with digital equipment, such as a TWC-supplied digital set top box, digital adapter or CableCard.”
TWC representative Joli Plucknette-Farmen told The Observer that the change was made across the northeast and that those already receiving digital cable with a set top box or digital adapter, an estimated 75 percent of TWC customers, should have experienced no change, with public access programming continuing on channel 23.
Customers with digital televisions equipped with a QAM tuner, which allows them to access digital programming without a box or adapter, will find PANDA is now on channel 20-2 or 20-4, but they may need to rescan their channels to find it.
However, customers who lost their access to public access programming must now order a digital adapter in order to view it.
Plucknette-Farmen said the change was made to improve the efficiency of the network. “It really is to free up more capacity on our network, allowing us to bring our customers the things that they ask for from us, which are faster Internet speeds, more high-definition programming, on-demand programming and more features in the future,” she told The Observer.
However, those who count on PANDA to communicate with viewers have been concerned that the change will mean fewer viewers, either because of confusion or lack of access.
Village of Red Hook Mayor Ed Blundell, a TWC customer, said that he wasn’t sure what the letter meant when he received it. “Tuesday night [July 23], I went to click on PANDA and it wasn’t there, there’s no signal. Then I went to 20-2, and sure enough, there it is,” he said.
Blundell worried that some customers might not have read the letter and would be caught by surprise. “It was one of those generic letters you get, like from a bank or a credit card privacy statement. You might not really read it,” he said.
According to Blundell, PANDA’s budget is partially funded by local governments that count on its programming, which includes coverage of board meetings.
“I think it’s pretty crucial, especially since Village of Red Hook pays about $12,000 per year for PANDA to be available,” Blundell said, adding that the cost is shared by the towns and villages of Rhinebeck, Red Hook and Tivoli.
“Our meetings are not heavily attended. We do work hard and we do put a lot of energy into what we’re doing for the village and since people are not at the meetings, we hope that they are watching us on PANDA so we’re getting input, even if people don’t come to the meetings,” he said. “If the station changes location and the viewership doesn’t catch it, then we’re doing the meetings and paying the money, but they’re not watching. That’s not a good thing.”
PANDA Station Manager Danielle Maloney said that she and her staff heard about the change the same way TWC customers did, in a letter. She emphasized that if viewers have not noticed a change yet, they are not affected.
Maloney was not concerned about losing viewers. “PANDA 23 has really tried in the past year to make viewers more aware of our station, and really top the quality of the programming and the variety of programs that are submitted. I do not anticipate that this would affect viewership at all, and hope that it wouldn’t,” she told The Observer.
Maloney directed any customers who are having difficulty with the change to contact TWC directly using the information provided in the letter, or by visiting www.TWC.com/digitaladapter or calling 855-286-1736, a hotline devoted to troubleshooting this change for customers.
The new digital adapters, if received before Sept. 23, will be free and their use also will be free until the end of December 2014. Starting Jan. 1, 2015, the adapters will cost 99 cents a month, according to TWC.