Capital Watch


Sachs, Fritts Pitch Digital

Consumer-electronics retailers and manufacturers need to do a better job of explaining digital-TV and HD-equipment needs, according to NCTA President Robert Sachs. Cable installers, for example, have found that half the households requesting HD service do not have an HDTV set, he told the March conference of the Advanced Television Systems Committee in Washington last week. Consumers often confuse large-screen and flat-screen TVs with HDTVs, he said. "A much better job of consumer education about DTV products needs to be done at the point of retail sale." But manufacturers weren't off the hook, either. He said they should better label sets' capabilities.

NAB President Eddie Fritts, In his speech to the ATSC group, took a swing at cable operators for carrying less than 10% of the nearly 800 DTV channels now offered by broadcast stations. "Only 75 DTV broadcast stations are being carried on cable, and 55 of those are on Time Warner systems. We look forward to rapid growth in those numbers," he said.

NAB is calling on the FCC to require dual cable carriage of broadcasters' analog and digital signals during the transition. NAB also wants carriage of any free multicast digital channels that stations offer.

Sachs dismissed Fritts's call for expanded digital cable carriage rights: "The give and take of private negotiations is always preferable to the government making decisions for us."

Cellasene Settles FTC Suit

Rexall Sundown, which pitched its Cellasene cellulite treatment in a widely distributed video news release (VNR) as well as in TV, radio, print and Internet ads, has agreed to pay "up to $12 million" to settle a longstanding Federal Trade Commission complaint against its marketing practices. The "up to" in that figure represents the settlement of various class-action suits against the company. The VNR, which FTC says prompted stories "throughout the country," talked up the product's "impressive" clinical trials. FTC countered in a July 2000 suit that claims that Rexall had clinical evidence of Cellasene's efficacy were false. "Hundreds of thousands of consumers were misled by the claims for this product," said Howard Beales, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

The FTC late last year pledged to crack down on the marketing of weight-loss products, and Beales issued another warning: "This case should alert advertisers to the fact that their chances of getting away with making unsubstantiated claims are slim to none." The settlement is not an admission of guilt by Rexall.

Plug-and-Play Santa

NCTA President Robert Sachs predicts that so-called "plug-and-play" DTV sets will be in stores for the Christmas shopping season. The consumer-friendly sets have been eagerly awaited because they do not require the extra cost of a set-top converter for consumers to get HD over cable. Sachs said the sets are already being manufactured. Confident of government approval, several companies have signed private agreements with the cable industry even though neither the FCC nor Congress has not yet weighed in on the "plug-and-play" specs. Sachs made those comments last week at a Consumer Electronics Association HDTV conference in Washington.

NCTA's Turner tapped for Homeland post

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has recruited NCTA Senior VP, Government Relations, Pam Turner as his assistant secretary for legislative affairs. That leaves both NCTA and NAB searching for top lobbyists; NAB Executive VP Jim May left last month to head the Air Transport Association of America. NCTA is becoming a regular farm club for assistant secretaries. Victoria Clarke, assistant secretary of defense, public affairs, was an executive with NCTA in the mid 1990s.