TV One Takes On Urban

Network asks FCC to deny Ion and Urban Television's request for mandatory carriage
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TV One, the African-American-targeted network, last week asked the FCC to deny Ion Media and Urban Television's request for mandatory carriage of their proposed African-American-targeted network, saying their gain would be TV One's loss.

Ion/Urban have argued that mandatory carriage of Ion's multicast TV channels, on which the network will run, is the only way it will become a viable new voice for minority programming, which furthers the FCC's diversity goals

While saying it supported "greater focus on African-American viewers" TV One countered that such carriage would override the FCC's "sound decision" to not grant broadcasters multicast must-carry, which it says the FCC's Media Bureau lacks the authority to do anyway.

Granting Ion/Urban's request, TV One argues, would "open the floodgates" to other such requests, resulting in the "wholesale displacement" of cable channels like TV One that have "earned carriage on MVPD's by dint of the quality and appeal of their programming, not by manipulating the regulatory system."

TV One's opposition is not a big surprise. A host of niche networks, and not-so-niche networks for that matter, have weighed in against broader multicast must-carry proposals because of fears they will be jettisoned to make room for them.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association opposes Urban TV as well. In a December filing, NCTA said that, "[C]ostumed in the sheep's clothing of a harmless share-time agreement," waxed the cable lobby, "this is the wolf of multicast must-carry."

Ion wants the FCC to treat the multicast stations as separate licensees and assign a portion of that license to Urban to program. NCTA says there are no licenses to assign because there has been no showing that the novel proposal squares with current FCC rules and regulations, which NCTA argues it does not.

The FCC has already rejected multicast must-carry, twice at least, and NCTA says it must do so again.

Cable operators already have a problem with mandatory station carriage as a government thumb on the scale of private carriage negotiations, as well as a taking of property and a violation of cable's First Amendment rights as the editors of their own service.

NCTA said that an additional carriage mandate would knock other channels off their lineups and delay the roll-out of more bandwidth-heavy services like HDTV and interactive applications.

But Ion Media and Robert Johnson's Urban Television have a number of supporters.

In separate filings with the FCC, Media Access Project/Common Cause and nearly a dozen civil rights groups weighed in on the proposal.

In their filing, MAP and Common Cause said that what amounts to a shared licensing scheme was a creative initiative and could help boost broadcast diversity. They said the proposal is an improvement on time brokerage agreements because the programmer-Urban, headed by BET founder Johnson-would have an ownership interest in the station licenses.

Bob Johnson, chairman of RLJ companies, who would also be chair of Urban Television if and when it got the FCC go-ahead, told B&C that he was disappointed in TV one's opposition.

"I was disappointed that they would try to make this a competition between BET and Urban Television," he told B&C.  We should be joining forces together and saying we need more carriage, not less carriage. We need more minority programming, not less minority programming."

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