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CBS threatens to stop digital feeds

Dec 16, 2002  •  Post A Comment

CBS will pull the plug on high-definition television next year, unless the Federal Communications Commission moves quickly to approve a plan clearing the way for Hollywood studios to prevent Internet redistribution of broadcast signals.
That was the threat that CBS parent Viacom made in a recent FCC filing.
“The potential loss in revenues for Viacom alone due to the unauthorized redistribution of broadcast television content and the resulting devaluation of broadcasting could reach hundreds of millions of dollars,” Viacom said.
CBS representatives had no comment saying the filing spoke for itself. But sources attributed the unusually blunt tone of the ultimatim to the fact that it was ordered directly by Viacom President and Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin.
“It’s not your usual namby-pamby approach in Washington,” a source said.
In its filing, Viacom also said the reason the company is concerned is that without the so-called “broadcast flag” plan, broadcasting will be the only major TV transmission technology to lack the capability to protect its programming.
That means studios will be reluctant to deal with broadcasters, and quality entertainment and sports programming will migrate to cable and satellite, “rendering free over-the-air television the poor stepchild of the distribution platforms, if it can even survive carrying second-rate, leftover programming,” Viacom said.
A coalition of activist groups led by the Consumer Federation of America, however, urged the FCC to strike the broadcast flag as anti-consumer “overkill” that won’t stymie commercial pirates.
“Average consumers, who are law-abiding citizens, will find that their legitimate fair use rights have been destroyed and the functionality of their devices restricted,” the watchdog groups said in their own filing at the FCC.
A CBS refusal to offer any HDTV programming during the 2003-04 TV season would deliver a devastating blow to the FCC’s effort to spur a transition to digital.
CBS has long been at the forefront of transition issues and is currently offering all 18 of its prime-time comedies and dramas in high-definition TV.
At deadline, the FCC had no comment.