New York -- BET Holdings Inc. chairman and CEO Robert L.
Johnson urged direct-broadcast satellite providers to help meet their public-interest
obligations by backing a public-affairs channel devoted to the interests of
In an interview after floating the proposal at the T.
Howard Foundation satellite-industry benefit dinner last week, Johnson said he would
create a non-profit subsidiary to coordinate the new channel if the DBS industry agreed to
devote some bandwidth to the network and if African-American organizations provided
Johnson said cable already does a good job of providing
relevant information through C-SPAN and local origination channels, and that it was time
for DBS to follow suit.
The proposed channel would give organizations such as the
NAACP, the Urban League, the United Negro College Fund and even African-American churches
the opportunity to speak directly to their constituents "without being
filtered," Johnson said.
Without a commitment from the DBS industry, Johnson said,
he does not want to approach the national black civil rights organizations about the
proposed network. But he noted that DirecTV Inc. president Eddy Hartenstein, who shared
his table at the diversity-related benefit, expressed initial support for the plan.
An EchoStar Communications Corp. spokesman said the Dish
Network also was "happy to look at programming with a focus on education or diverse
issues to see whether they meet our public interest obligations."
U.S. Satellite Broadcasting Inc. CEO Stanley E. Hubbard,
whose company is merging into DirecTV soon, said he hoped Johnson's proposal was something
the DBS industry could embrace.
But without an educational component, the proposed channel
would not fit the definitional requirements of the DBS public-interest set-aside as
outlined by the Federal Communications Commission.
The Federal Communications Commission determined last
November that DBS licensees must set aside 4 percent of their video-channel capacity for
use by nonprofit educational programmers.
Johnson contended that a 24-hour public-affairs channel
devoted to minority interests made good business sense for DBS companies because it could
help push dish penetration in minority communities. Johnson would not keep the channel
exclusive to DBS, but would offer it to cable operators as well.
C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb said that while there's always room
for more voices, there's not always room for a new network on any given cable system,
especially a channel that doesn't offer direct profit potential to an operator.
"People in this country respect making money first and
foremost," Lamb said, "and when it comes to non-profit, it's a very tough
Howard Foundation chairman Scott Weiss said the new channel
could get carriage on DBS because DBS has a national footprint and more bandwidth than
Weiss called initial reaction to Johnson's proposal
"very favorable. I would be surprised if the industry didn't get behind it."