Johnson Elaborates on Share-Time DTV Multicast Idea

Critics have dismissed it as a scheme to win must-carry rights for DTV multicast channels.
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BET founder Robert L. Johnson elaborated somewhat on his plan for share-time licenses, which he calls a new programming model and a “content” mall, but which critics have dismissed as a scheme to win must-carry rights for DTV multicast channels.

Johnson’s idea is to have his Urban Television run programming on digital sub-channels of ION Media Networks station in 42 markets.

In a statement Monday, Johnson called his vision a “'content mall,' where programming ideas would be solicited from the creative/talent community, as well as major advertisers.”

The model enables aligning the broadcast programming content with an Internet site to create interactive programming, e-commerce, and more robust programming opportunities.

“Think of this model as a creative television content mall where you find broad, mass-appeal content that serves as the anchor and niche programming that fills out the channel. Using this concept, our 24-hour continuous programming will be designed to attract creative entrepreneurs and to meet the interests and lifestyle of a variety of urban viewers.”

To reach people who don’t regularly seek out ION’s DTV sub-channels, Johnson is seeking an FCC order to grant must-carry rights to the local multicasts, which they now do not have.

“This appears to be a request for multicast must-carry rights in all but name only,” said Brian Dietz, communications vice president with the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. “The full Commission has repeatedly rejected multicast must carry because it is unconstitutional and unnecessary. Broadcasters with compelling content can, and do, obtain carriage for multicast programming but mandating carriage of those signals should again be rejected.”

Johnson said has already reached out prominent members of the African American creative, editorial, and entertainment community (including producer Tyler Perry, Ebony Magazine President and CEO Linda Johnson Rice, and singer and actress Beyonce Knowles) to inform them of the opportunity to participate in content and programming, as well as ownership.

"If Ebony magazine wants to create programming that is based on their magazine content, or Beyonce wants to showcase her fashion clothing line and tie in an e-commerce link, I could provide her with a programming time slot and she can produce and own her program," Johnson said.

He also envisions a public-interest focus, he said, potentially including an all-news, all-talk channel or a lifestyle and wellness channel focused on health.

"Our existing stations have a strong footprint in key urban markets, including New York, Chicago, and Boston and a host of other major urban markets,” said ION Chairman Brandon Burgess. “We have stations in all 20 of the top 20 markets and it is our goal, partnering with Urban Television, to add broader and more comprehensive content to our existing programming while at the same time offering diversity in programming and diversity in ownership."