NCTA Aims at Broadcasters

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Last month, after the FCC Mass Media Bureau laid out a tentative plan to speed up the digital transition, the National Association of Broadcasters responded and, as it has before, urged the commission to require cable to carry all digital channels that will be offered by stations. The NAB also asked that broadcasters be allowed to keep their analog channels until 85% of the nation's households can receive digital signals. A few days later, Dan Brenner, the senior vice president for law and regulatory policy for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, tore into NAB's argument in a letter, excerpted here:

Among other things, broadcasters now claim that while the Bureau's down-conversion proposal might accelerate the pace of the digital transition, it … would deter cable customers from purchasing HD sets and frustrate those customers who have already purchased such sets.

But they simply fail to come to grips with the fact that cable customers, if they are so inclined, already have ample reason to purchase HD television sets. That's because cable is offering HD program services.

At the end of last month, cable operators in 155 television markets throughout the country already were voluntarily carrying a mix of HD programming. …

The broadcasters' letter comes on top of earlier efforts by organizations representing affiliates of NBC, CBS, and ABC to argue that mandatory multicast carriage is critical to the future of broadcast television.

They not only argue that the viability of their multicast programming depends on guaranteed cable carriage; they go so far as to contend that without such guaranteed carriage, the very viability of broadcast television would be imperiled. …

The affiliates' contention that failure to require cable carriage of their as yet undeveloped multicast programming will somehow strike the death knell for over-the-air broadcasting is another hollow claim.

They contend that "if broadcasters did not believe that multicasting could
be critical to ensuring a vibrant and competitive broadcast service, they would not be developing plans for multicasting services."

It's not obvious why this is the case. One would think that, even if multicasting were not critical to the survival of broadcasters, they might still invest in multicasting services if such services were sufficiently likely to attract viewers and produce incremental profits, which is the calculus that other programmers use in deciding whether to invest in new services. …

Notwithstanding the guaranteed carriage of their analog signals, broadcasters are apparently unwilling to take even the ordinary investment risks inherent in the programming marketplace and assumed by other programmers.

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