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2004

With satellite television and interactive “spacebridges,” Kim Spencer ’70 thinks the tube can change the world.

By Todd Schwartz

Sailing soundlessly at 7,000 miles an hour through the hard light of the sun, a communications satellite holds position above an often-tormented Earth. There, on satellite TV, between the movies, pro bull riding competition, and ubiquitous Friends reruns, is something as rare as reason on American TV: a decidedly and very intentionally wide-angle view of the world.

This particular bandwidth slice of digital cake is Link TV, the first and only national network “bringing Americans a global perspective on world issues and culture,” as reads its press kit. What Link TV, against all odds, is beaming 24/7 into our living rooms is a breath of always fresh, sometimes frightening air. Unlike the “world-as-packaged-in-Atlanta” soundbites of CNN, Link TV gives the planet a chance to express itself in its own voice, with source nations and perspectives that change all day long. By turns it is educational, entertaining, uplifting, shocking, fascinating, and scary as hell.

Which is exactly what Link TV co-founder and president Kim Spencer ’70 wants. “This channel was created,” he says from Link TV’s modest San Francisco headquarters, “as a way for people to meet the rest of the world face to face, and as an antidote to misunderstanding, insularity, and the American-centric view that is pervasive on this nation’s TV sets.”

Watch, for example, Mosaic: World News from the Middle East, the Link TV program that has attracted the most attention during the war in Iraq. This daily program monitors news broadcasts from 16 nations, Egypt to Abu Dhabi, Israel to Iran, Syria to Yemen, translating the coverage into English and offering Americans rare insight into how events are seen, interpreted, and reported in the Mideast.

“The program is sort of a Rashomon,” Spencer says. “It’s remarkable how many ways the same event can be seen. And I think many Americans are now beginning to realize how dangerous it is not to know what other people think of you.”

As well as broadcasting news programs from around the world, Link TV also airs interactive programs like Global Link, Active Opposition, and the youth-focused Chat the Planet. Spencer has seen television as a two-way stream for 30 years now, so it’s no surprise that these series connect the Link TV audience with individuals around the world through digital video links.

While operating on a budget totaling about 1/100th that of the niche channel Oxygen (which debuted about the same time as Link TV), Spencer’s network is available to the 21 million U.S. households receiving satellite television, and records some 4.8 million weekly viewers. All because a freshman engineering student at Purdue decided to shake the tree.

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Reed Magazine February 2004
2004