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CBS says it’s the flag or no HDTV

The broadcast flag war is shaping up as one of viewer rights versus corporate interests. CBS recently drew a line in the sand when Viacom president/CEO Mel Karmazin threatened to pull the plug on HDTV broadcasting next season if the FCC doesn’t raise the “flag” against consumer recording.

“The potential loss in revenues for Viacom alone due to the unauthorized redistribution of broadcast television content and the resulting devaluation of broadcasting could reach hundreds of millions of dollars,” Viacom, the owner of CBS, said in an FCC filing.

It was reported that the threat to the FCC was personally ordered by Karmazin, who is said to be worried that his company’s programming, if left unprotected, will end up being traded on the Internet.

Without the broadcast flag to prevent recording, the motion picture studios will shy away from broadcasters and migrate to cable and satellite, theorizes Karmazin and company. This will render “free over-the-air television the poor stepchild of the distribution platforms, if it can even survive carrying second-rate, leftover programming,” Viacom said.

CBS, which is currently offering 18 of its primetime programs in HD, thinks it carries a big stick, since a refusal to air HDTV programming next season would be a blow to the government-mandated “DTV transition.” Others think it would simply help the network’s cable and satellite competitors, who are already embracing HDTV with their own premium programming.

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