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CBS Will Pull HD Without Broadcast Flag

CBS is playing hardball on the copy protection issue, threatening to withhold its vaunted HDTV programming next fall if the FCC doesn't come up with effective rules to prevent digital piracy.

In an FCC filing, CBS parent Viacom warned that it could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues if its digital offerings are illegally copied and distributed in the growing world of broadband Internet.

"If a broadcast flag is not implemented and enforced by Summer 2003, [CBS] will not provide any programming in high definition for the 2003-2004 television season," Viacom said. "Viacom believes that DTV sales and broadband subscriptions have reached the 'tipping point' at which it can no longer afford to expose its content to piracy. A broadcast flag regime is needed now to protect the value of our important assets or we must withhold our quality HD digital content."

If CBS or other networks followed through with the threat, it could be a blow to DTV manufacturers and boosters who have recently been able to point to broad availability of HD programming. CBS leads the networks with 24 hours of HD programming weekly. The network says it is broadcasting 120 hours of HD sports in the 2002-2003 season.

A spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association, which has advocated less restrictive protection schemes than the networks, was not immediately available for comment. Earlier this year, CEA awarded CBS three "DTV Pioneer" awards for its HDTV programming and promotion efforts.