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Digital revolution coming to Whistler televisions



WRTV, ASN debut Nov. 1

A month and a half into the digital world, TV viewers are starting to get a feel for the new specialty channels available on the small screen. But on Nov. 1 digital will finally mean something specific to Whistler.

Two new digital channels will show visitors what Whistler is all about this winter and provide locals with up to date information about what’s going on in town. Fine dining, nightlife, current (and accurate) weather information in the alpine and the valley, action sports videos and activities are part of the mix. A what’s on in Whistler section – part of a strategic alliance with Pique Newsmagazine – will also be featured.

"We want to show guests that Whistler really does represent the epicentre of the mountain lifestyle," says Don McQuaid, president of Whistler Resort TV.

WRTV had a successful trial run on channel 19 on Whistler Cable between December 2000 and May 2001. The analog version was a 10-minute loop of local content from restaurants, night clubs and activities in Whistler, as well as national advertising, but it was only a taste of what’s to come.

Next month WRTV moves to channel 2 and goes digital. WRTV will have a one-hour loop, consisting of 40 minutes of local content, 15 minutes of advertising, three minutes of station identification and branding and a two-minute What’s On in Whistler report.

WRTV will be a multi-zone digital platform, meaning there will be text information along the bottom and side of the screen, similar to what the all-news and all-sports channels offer. The platform is the latest technology from Capital Networks of Toronto, capable of incorporating e-mailed content, so text information can be updated in an instant.

WRTV has also formed strategic alliances with Whistler-Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler to provide text content. Environment Canada and Whistler-Blackcomb are providing the weather information, which will be updated every 15 minutes. Tourism Whistler is providing activities and resort information.

"Locals will use us once a day but the reality is it’s something every guest will want to sit through at least once," says McQuaid.

WRTV is based on models established by RSN, the Resort Sports Network, which broadcasts in every major U.S. ski resort, and The Maui Channel in Hawaii.

Channel 19, meanwhile, will become Adventure Sports Network, featuring action sports films with a Whistler connection. Travis Tetreault of Heavy Hitting Films will be running ASN, ensuring there’s "an edge" to the action channel.

"Either the athletes in the movies or the filmmaker will be Whistlerites," says McQuaid. "We’ll start with content and form and structure will be added over time."

Skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, kayaking and other sports will be featured on ASN, which will have a "soft" debut Nov. 1 with a five-minute action reel. ASN will ramp-up to full speed as the winter season gets underway.

The CRTC approved McQuaid’s application for a Category 2 licence for a digital specialty channel last year, along with 261 other Category 2 licences and 21 Category 1 licences.

Category 1 channels have guaranteed access on satellite carriers and local cable companies’ digital service. Many of those new channels became available last month.

Category 2 channels are local or niche-oriented channels. The licence holders must negotiate with the local cable company for access to their digital service, so WRTV and ASN are operated in partnership with Whistler Cable.

Digital technology allows several channels to be squeezed into the "space" normally occupied by one analog channel. It will also allow, eventually, for interactive television, where viewers can click on the screen to make restaurant reservations or book an activity, for example.

"Digital TV is made for a market like Whistler," McQuaid says. "Digital allows niche channels, and Whistler is a niche of affluent, active people that’s attractive to national advertisers."

Digital TV allows laser beam marketing rather than shotgun marketing.

But the Whistler community will also be better served by the digital revolution. Channel 6, the community channel on Whistler Cable, will be greatly improved in the next six months, with more local content and community broadcasting.

"We need to provide better content," says McQuaid, who is working closely with Whistler Cable. "The importance of the community to Whistler Cable is clear. We will be providing more Whistler-specific information, in partnership with WRTV and ASN."

Whistler Cable has also invested heavily in technology and infrastructure in recent months, to provide cable and Internet service the equal of any cable operator in the country. The company has also moved its signal origination site to Function Junction, meaning no more interrupted service due to snow on the dishes.

Look for the results on channels 2, 6 and 19, starting Nov. 1.