Group Calls for Wider Ad-Discrimination Ban

2/21/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

A group representing minority media interests wants cable and satellite operators to be held to the same federal ban on ad discrimination as television broadcasters, though it concedes no hard data exists suggesting that is a problem in the cable industry.

The Minority Media & Telecommunications Council asked the Federal Communications Commission last week to extend its broadcast-advertising nondiscrimination rule to cable, satellite and telco-based multichannel-video platforms.

MMTC executive director David Honig said that the evidence of ad discrimination in cable is only anecdotal. “The FCC hasn’t done a study,” Honig told Multichannel News, “but it seems improbable that this problem, having arisen for broadcast, wouldn’t also have a significant impact on multichannel video.”

“Whenever I have heard of non-urban dictates it has always applied to radio, and I understand there have been documented cases [there], said Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau vice president of diversity marketing and business media Cynthia Perkins-Roberts.

“We are not aware of anything documented in cable,” she added.

But Perkins-Roberts also said the CAB is opposed to discriminatory practices “wherever they exist,” and would “welcome working with the FCC to make sure that whatever rules they come up with apply to cable in a relevant way.”

In a filing with the agency, the MMTC asked the FCC to launch a rulemaking to “ensure an equal footing for all services in the fight against advertising discrimination.”

In its March 5, 2009, order adopting a dozen initiatives to boost minority media, the FCC required broadcasters to certify their ad contracts do not discriminate on the basis of race or gender. Minority media have long complained of so-called “no urban” and “no Spanish” dictates in ad contracts, which effectively excluded a large swath of minority-targeted media.

At the time, the MMTC said the ban on broadcast ad discrimination was the “most significant new federal nondiscrimination mandate in any industry in over 30 years,” saying it could help recover the $200 million a year minority media lost out, a sum looking even more important as the ad pool continues to dry up in the tanking economy.

The broadcast portion of that is about $125 million, MMTC estimates, so extending the discrimination ban to cable, satellite and telco video services would add another $75 million to the potential yearly take. Extending the ban would also further the FCC goals of regulatory parity and neutrality, MMTC argued.

“These [no urban/no Spanish] dictates distort the marketplace by driving down minority owned and programmed stations’ power ratios because of the,” MMTC said in its filing Monday.

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