Emmis Throws Down Digital-Retrans Gauntlet

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Jim McKernan, general manager of Emmis Communications Corp.’s KMTV(TV) Omaha, Neb., is sending out a "memo" to HDTV viewers explaining why the company pulled its HD signal from Cox Communications Inc.’s digital tier Jan. 1.

The e-mail, which was sent to digital cable subs who had contacted the station, is also being sent to "congressmen, senators, the mayor and the city council," said McKernan’s assistant. KMTV is also running an ad explaining its side and referencing Cox’s ongoing carriage battle with ESPN.

"The real issue is one of fundamental fairness in competition," McKernan wrote. "We are not looking for handouts. Instead, we seek an economic acknowledgement of our digital investment, our intrinsic and undeniable value in building the digital infrastructure and the immense value we provide to the consumer."

The sticking point is money. The station has ponied up $3 million for the digital build-out and "pass-through" of CBS’s HD programming and will have to spend millions more to rebuild the station for local HD production, McKernan said. He added that Cox uses the availability of CBS’s HD programming, including the Super Bowl and March Madness, to convert subs to the digital tier. KMTV wants to share in the benefits of its investment.

McKernan says that initially, the move will only impact about 2,500 digital customers, all of which can still see the Super Bowl and other programming via the analog feed.

A Cox spokesman had not returned calls at press time.

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