NRB Member Advocates for Christian TV at 'Future of Video' Hearing

Sky Angel CEO Johnson cites difficulty religious and family-friendly programming has with cable industry

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The FCC’s recent viewability order—which removes the must-carry corollary that requires cable operators with hybrid analog/digital systems to deliver those TV stations in both formats—led the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) to a position of defending its place in American media.

The Communications & Technology Subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee held a hearing on the “Future of Video” on June 27. Robert Johnson, CEO of Sky Angel—a member company of NRB at the center of an FCC decision about what constitutes a video provider—was invited to testify.

In advance of the hearing, Frank Wright, president and CEO of NRB, registered his belief that “Faith-based programming should have an important place in the future of American media.”

In his own written testimony, Johnson cited the difficulty religious and familyfriendly programming can sometimes have with the cable industry. Sky Angel is a distribution company that delivers religious and family-friendly content via broadband or “over-the-top” viewing.

“Like any new entrant, Sky Angel’s ability to compete rests in large part on being able to offer a variety of popular programming options,” said Johnson, adding that his company is “functionally identical” to traditional multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), which program access requirements prohibit discriminating against. “Unfortunately, the video distribution marketplace remains willing to engage in anti-competitive tactics in order to harm emerging competitors, as Sky Angel’s ongoing experience clearly demonstrates,” Johnson said.

Sky Angel has been in a two-year battle with Discovery Communications over a distribution issue. Sky Angel accused Discovery of halting their business ties, claiming it was due to a concern that traditional pay TV companies didn’t approve of the relationship. “Although Sky Angel had timely paid all fees to Discovery Communications for two years, Discovery suddenly informed Sky Angel that it planned to terminate their contract,” Johnson said. Discovery has yet to comment on the matter.

Johnson continued, “Sky Angel urges Congress to ensure that there is a level playing field so that it, and other new entrants, may have the opportunity to compete fairly for video subscribers and thus enhance the public interest, and consumer choice, by providing new opportunities and uses for the Internet, now and in the future.”

David Barrett, president & CEO of Hearst Television, backed his fellow broadcasters, highlighting the importance of the mustcarry law to smaller local broadcasters, which include religious and faith-based programmers. “These stations often target audiences whose needs are not being met by other programming sources,” Barrett said. “Because these stations serve narrower audiences, the ability to elect mandatory carriage is important to their continued survival. Carriage of these unique stations’ signals is important to the diversity of both free over-the-air broadcasting and to the diversity of programming available via MVPD service.”

“I, for one, do not believe we should be expanding video regulation,” Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in his opening remarks. “The last thing we want is to shackle everyone’s entrepreneurial spirit with one-size-fits-all rules designed for another time.”