Capital Watch


News Corp. Queried on Affils' Retrans Rights

News Corp. must tell the FCC whether the Fox network retains rights to negotiate cable or satellite retrans deals for any Fox affiliates other than its own O&Os. In a third round of questions about the company's bid to control DirecTV, the FCC also asked whether News Corp. ever negotiated retransmission-consent agreements on behalf of affiliates or required Fox affiliates to demand carriage of non-broadcast programming as compensation for pay-TV carriage. Although News Corp. is not known to be engaging in the practice currently, the company did rely on affiliates' retransmission consent leverage to launch FX in 1993.

AM Windfall Likely

Broadcasters stuck with low-valued AM stations on the outskirts of major cities, including many minority owners, might be on the verge of a financial windfall. Last week, the FCC announced it will let AM owners apply for major modifications to their licenses. Hundreds of stations are expected to line up for changes to signal contours, power levels, etc. One potentially lucrative change could be shifting a station's community of license. That means an outlet, say, 30 miles or so outside Minneapolis could dramatically increase its value by moving to the nearby big market. Such a move could spike a station's value by millions of dollars. Owners have demanded a "major mod" window for years, but the current decision comes at the appeal of the Minority Media Telecommunications Council, which seeks a way to finally give minority owners a significant presence in big markets. Applications for major modifications will be accepted between Jan. 26 and Jan. 30. Applicants whose plans would create interference for each other must settle their signal conflicts or vie for the permits via auction.

Leeway for DTV Simulcasts

Broadcasters are getting more flexibility in meeting their obligation to simulcast the digital version of their traditional analog programming. Four stations in the past few weeks have been given waivers to the FCC simulcasting rules. South Texas Public Broadcasting won an OK to delay until March 4 KEDT-DT Corpus Christi's simulcasting as the station installs the necessary master control. In the meantime, KEDT-DT will air the PBS national high-definition feed. Washburn University's KTWU(TV) Topeka, Kan., and WQED Multimedia's WQED(TV) Pittsburgh received six-month waivers. KTWU currently is multicasting high-definition and standard-definition streams on KTWU-DT, including the PBS HD demonstration loop, HDTV feeds from PBS and American Public Television, and PBS prime time HDTV. In a standard-definition digital stream, KTWU-DT broadcasts a lineup comprising children's programming.

Twin Cities Public Television, operator of KTCI-TV and KTCA-TV Minneapolis-St. Paul, will try a novel way of complying. Rather than simulcast on the digital version of each station, Twin Cities will air both digital simulcasts on KTCI-DT, allowing KTCA-DT's digital spectrum to be dedicated to full-time high-definition programming. Simulcasting rules required stations to digitally simulcast 50% of their analog lineup beginning April 1. The requirement increases to 75% on April 1, 2004, and to 100% on April 1, 2005.

FCC woes for SpectraSite

Tower operator SpectraSite Communications is looking at a $120,500 FCC fine and a broader investigation after the commission last week found the company failed to register or light the antenna it provides WCVE-TV Richmond, Va. The maximum forfeiture was proposed because SpectraSite had committed at least 13 other violations of antenna rules in the past three years. SpectraSite owns or manages 8,000 towers for broadcasters and wireless services. The company exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy eight months ago, and Chairman Steve Clark rang the New York Stock Exchange's opening bell on Oct. 7 (above) to celebrate the company's NYSE listing. In November 2002, SpectraSite filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and was delisted from NASDAQ.