Commentary

Cable Operators Want To Eliminate Must-Buys Of Local TV

The cable industry is at it again, trying to avoid carrying local TV station signals. Industry members claim that DirecTV and EchoStar Communications don't have to do it -- so why should they?

The cable industry argues that under the 1992 must-buy rules, it costs money to carry stations (absent of any retransmission consent monies). A repeal of those rules would give cable subscribers the option of not buying those channels in a package - and reduce their monthly fee.

If that happened, the FCC would be concerned that some lower-rated local TV stations would go out of business. Maybe the marketplace would rule instead. 

Yet if those local stations -- many of which are networks affiliates -- find themselves on the outs, consumers will just rebel. They won't buy cable; they'll buy satellite instead, or an IPTV service. 

Despite the cable industry's own perceptions, viewers are still watching plenty of network TV. Without those shows, cable's monthly value goes down dramatically.

In reality, the cable industry lobby probably doesn't want to get rid of the ABC, NBC, CBS, or Fox affiliates -- which is why many are making retransmission consent deals.

What cable operators really want is to free up channel space by eliminating smaller, independent or other stations -- and adding cable channels that would give them advertising inventory to sell.

 
In pursuing this plan, operators would be telling subscribers they don't need local TV news - the bread and butter of TV station business.  It's one area cable programming has been sorely lacking - save for a handful of local news cable channels mostly in the bigger markets.

As we move into the all-digital TV signal world in the early part of 2009, the cable business is betting that local TV stations will find their own way, or that viewers won't miss them, or that cable news networks will be more popular, or that people won't care as much for local TV news, or that the Internet will take care of the local TV and local TV news needs of viewers.

 
When the cable business was starting up, it wouldn't suggest that it might carry local TV signals. That was always part of the original cable deal -- better reception of local TV stations.

Without TV stations, the cable industry will only get more static.

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