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Broadcasters Battle for Signal Protection

WASHINGTON: The broadcast lobby is playing the localism card in a big way as Congress considers the renewal of the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act. Cable and satellite operators are agitating to import the signals of TV stations in distant markets, while broadcasters contend that doing so will destroy incumbent stations. Currently, the law allows carriers to provide distant signals to households that cannot receive TV stations in their own designated market areas.

Paul Karpowicz, chairman of the TV board of the National Association of Broadcasters and the president of Meredith Broadcasting testified on Capitol Hill this morning before a House Commerce subcommittee marking up a SHVERA draft.

“The satellite industry wants to change the law so that they can bring in duplicative network and national syndicated programming,” Karpowicz said in his prepared testimony. “As a practical matter, let me explain what would occur if this were to happen”

WHNS-TV is Meredith’s Fox affiliate in Greenville, S.C. If a satellite operator imported the Fox in Charlotte, N.C., WHNS would lose audience and experience a domino-like deterioration, he said.

“As a result, we would have fewer resources to serve the viewers… with local programming, including news, weather, emergency information, and other local services,” he testified. “In addition, a satellite or cable operator in a retransmission consent dispute could try to drop the viewer’s local station in these North Carolina communities and instead carry a distant Fox affiliate, thereby depriving viewers of local information.”

Preston Padden, executive vice president of government relations at Disney, reiterated the potential harm distant signals could do to local stations.

“While there is never a good time to negatively affect advertising revenue, there could never be a worse time than right now. Earlier this month, Nielsen reported that first quarter 2009 television spot advertising expenditures dropped 16 percent in the top 100 television markets and a stunning 29 percent in smaller broadcast markets,” he testified.

Mike Mountford, CEO of the National Programming Service, urged lawmakers to lift all distant-signal restrictions. NPS is an Indianapolis company that provides distant signals to Dish Network subscribers. Mountford said NPS has about 115,000 subscribers nationwide. He suggested letting people rather than TV station certify what signals they do and don’t receive. The law is currently based on an analog predictive reception model, one that’s not necessarily applicable to digital reception.

Broadcasting and Cable’s John Eggerton reported that this so-called “analog loophole” was addressed at the hearing, where subcommittee chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) got a verbal agreement from the satellite players not to exploit it. -- Deborah D. McAdams