Washington Notes

Dec 8, 2003  •  Post A Comment

A broadcast industry proposal to require cable TV operators to carry all of the free signals that broadcasters offer on their digital TV channels picked up steam last week when Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein announced he is willing to cut a deal on the proposed regulation.
In a speech to media industry lawyers in Washington, Mr. Adelstein suggested that he would swap his vote for a multicast carriage requirement if broadcasters agreed to a requirement that all the signals would include a local angle.
“With respect to carriage, broadcasters make the case that multicast carriage will further localism,” the commissioner said. “If so, there should be no reason why they cannot accept a localism requirement on all their digital program streams that gain the privilege of must-carry.”
Industry sources said broadcasters would be reluctant to sign off on a deal that would explicitly link carriage to a programming obligation. Their fear is that a direct link would make the carriage rule vulnerable to legal challenge on First Amendment grounds.
But the fact that Mr. Adelstein has made clear that he’s ready to negotiate is a good sign for broadcasters, particularly since two of Mr. Adelstein’s agency colleagues-Republicans Kevin Martin and Kathleen Abernathy-have also signaled they’re leaning in favor of a carriage obligation.
DirecTV Deal Under Fire
Already feeling the heat from News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch’s proposed acquisition of DirecTV, Victory Sports One has asked the Federal Communications Commission to adopt last-minute conditions on the deal to bar Mr. Murdoch from squashing independently owned regional sports networks.
“If News Corp. is allowed to use DirecTV as part of its strategy to control the distribution of sports content, it would have another powerful weapon at its disposal for preventing the successful launch of competing networks, in particular competing [regional sports networks],” Victory said in a filing at the FCC last week.
Victory, a recently launched regional sports network owned by the Minnesota Twins, told the agency that it is concerned about Mr. Murdoch and his plans because DirecTV is already refusing to negotiate for carriage of the Victory network even before News Corp.’s DirecTV acquisition has been officially blessed by federal regulators.
Despite the dispute, the Department of Justice and FCC are expected to approve the deal by year-end, with several other strings attached aimed at blunting Mr. Murdoch’s power over the TV business.