Cable Lobby Keeps Up Defensive Must-Carry Gauntlet

January 8, 2004
The NCTA is performing a defensive blitzkrieg in the face of growing demands by broadcasters that must-carry should apply to all digital signals, and not just a single video stream. The latest move involves an ex parte filing with the FCC over likewise filings by ABC and NBC seeking must-carry for potential services.

Complete must-carry, broadcasters argue, is the only possible way to pay for multicasting. Cable operators, of course, don't care. Every bit devoted to must-carry is a bite out of their own revenue stream. Single-video must-carry is their mantra.

"As NCTA has explained in this proceeding, we strongly believe that the Commission was correct when it ruled that cable operators' must-carry obligations with respect to multicast digital signals are limited to carriage of a single video programming stream," the cable lobby's filing stated.

Besides, the NCTA argues, what's up with ABC and NBC asking for additional must-carry anyway? They don't need it, what with the way they've used retransmission consent to foist their cable networks onto systems.

"Of the 90 cable networks that are carried most frequently on cable operators' basic or expanded-basic tier, approximately 43 percent were majority-owned by a broadcaster," the NCTA said, citing a GAO study.

Of NBC's 14 wholly or part-owned cable nets, half reach more than 70 million homes, the NCTA said. Of ABC's 15 cable nets, eight reach more than 80 million subscribers.

The squabbles over retransmission consent are well documented. In 2000, Time Warner Cable dropped ABC during sweeps because ABC-parent Disney was strong-arming TWC into converting its Disney Channel from a premium to a basic tier. That same year, Cox dropped Fox in the nation's capital, among other markets, and now Cox is engaged in battle with Disney over the price of ESPN.

Meanwhile, the Cox affiliate in Omaha, Neb., is in a new kind of carriage war with the general manager of KMTV, who thinks Cox ought to pony up some bucks for the station's HD signal, particularly since KMTV is the CBS affiliate, and CBS will broadcast the Super Bowl in HD on Feb. 1

A digital must-carry mandate that covers all digital signals simply gives broadcasters too much power, the NCTA contended in its filing, and besides, they're not exactly offering up a programming extravaganza.

"Of the dozens of stations owned by ABC and NBC, for example, only one station actually offers a multicast service today," the NCTA said. "One of the channels features 'repurposed' local news along with some local public affairs programming."

Just what cable needs, the lobby continued, another news channel.

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