CBS pitches new digital broadcast channel; networks try multichannel must-carry again

June 12, 2005

Last week CBS again offered its affiliates a new digital entertainment channel to promote its mainstream sports and entertainment programming. The promo channel would be offered as a multicast option for CBS stations and would compete with offerings such as NBC’s “Weather Plus” and ABC’s “News Now” services.

Martin D. Franks, executive vice president of CBS TV, made the pitch to station executives at the network’s annual affiliates meeting at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. He said the new channel, which would be inexpensive to produce, could feature “making of” footage and other promotion fare for the network’s roster of sports and entertainment programming. He said with affiliate participation, it could launch in 20 million homes within six months.

The idea was offered last year, but affiliates showed little interest.

The proposed channel may be as much about politics as entertainment programming. Franks, in charge of CBS’ spectrum policy, legislative, and content issues, no doubt has one eye on future attempts of how to deal with the FCC’s decision in March to deny multichannel must-carry to television broadcasters.

Last week, the big three network affiliates asked the FCC to reconsider its must-carry decision, calling the commission’s reasoning fatally flawed. The new petition came in response to a cable industry paper praising the FCC for the correct decision. Since that vote, the broadcasters have made little progress in Congress or at the FCC to overturn the decision.

A new CBS supplemental channel could provide the network’s O&Os and affiliates with a backup path to digital carriage if the network’s arguments in Washington for mandatory carriage of broadcasters’ multiple digital channels fall on deaf ears, Franks told the executives.

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