NBC pushes forward with multicast strategy

Though the debate surrounding the validity of mandating the cable TV industry to carry more than one digital channel distributed by terrestrial broadcasters remains unresolved, NBC and its affiliate board continues to discuss plans to develop a specialized weather channel and other niche programming with its digital spectrum.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to make a ruling on the digital must-carry issue in the next six to eight weeks.

After meeting behind closed doors last week in Las Vegas, Roger Ogden, NBC affiliate-board chairman and senior vice president of Gannett Broadcasting told a group of reporters that it was hard to develop a definitive strategy “not knowing what the distribution is going to be from a cable perspective.”

NBC Television Network Group president Randy Falco said he thinks cable operators will be willing to carry the multicast digital channels if the channels provide value that will help differentiate the local cable operator’s service from its satellite TV competitors.

The network’s stations could also decide to split up their spectrum without cable carriage, if they can develop a compelling business model. “Distribution is a commodity,” Falco said. “If you have good content, there's a million ways to get distribution.”

Developing a profitable business from these channels could take several years after their launch, according to what Fox executives have discussed with their digital affiliates.

Also at the board meeting, Falco was reported to have addressed the issue of NBC’s acquisition of Vivendi Universal Entertainment. Some affiliate GMs expressed their concerns about NBC's commitment. “Are we less interested in broadcasting? Absolutely not,” he said. “The network is paramount to us. It's at the top of the list.”

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