NAB: HD Is Driver, Retrans Is Beneficiary

Broadcasters say they need HD particulary for live sports and viewers now expect no less than that quality

NAB Executive VP and General Counsel Jane Mago Wednesday sought Wednesday to clarify broadcasters' discussion with the FCC's broadband team headed by FCC broadband advisor Blair Levin.

Levin said in a letter to Mago that he had come out of an Oct. 30 meeting with broadcasters with the impression they were saying they needed all their spectrum so they would have leverage in retransmission consent negotiations now yielding significant payments from multichannel video providers, leverage that they would not have if that spectrum were reduced. Levin is mulling ways to reclaim spectrum from broadcasters for wireless use.

Mago confirmed that the conversation was indeed about retaining spectrum, and the value that acrued to broadcasters--and consumers--by doing so. But she said preserving HD for consumers was the key, and retrans leverage the beneficiary of that, rather than the motive force.

Mago said, by way of clarification, that the point they were making was that to deliver the highest quality HD, particulary for live sports, they would need "all the spectrum available for such a broadcast," pointing out that viewers have come to expect no less and that HD was "a large part of what the DTV transition was all about." Broadcasters benefit too, she suggested, because cable operators regognize the value of those signals and are willing to pay for them.

She said that broadcasters' point was that over-the-HD was serving the twin goals of keeping "multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) subscriber costs in check" by providing an alternative, free source, and providing a revenue source for broadcasters because "MVPDs also recognize the importance of HD such that it has recently become an important element in retransmission consent negotiations."

"I have great respect for Jane," National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow told B&C/Multichannel News, but he also said he could not let the part about keeping cable prices in check go without a response. "The assertion that a free platform given to broadcasters by the government worth billions and billions of dollars in return for which they would provide free programming is going to keep MVPD subscriber costs in check at precisely the same time they argued they needed the spectrum in order to charge more for retransmission consent is laughable."