Charter, PBS Take Aim at DBS

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Charter Communications Inc.'s Southern California cluster has a new ally in its battle against direct-broadcast satellite-the local PBS affiliate.

Last week, Charter systems from Orange County to San Luis Obispo, Calif., began running 30-second spots featuring Al Jerome, president of KCET, channel 28 in Los Angeles.

"The new satellite services like DirecTV [Inc.] and [EchoStar Communications Corp.'s] Dish Network tell you they deliver it all. But they don't carry KCET and a number of other local stations. Charter Communications does," Jerome said.

He further explained that the DBS services' local-into-local signals are national feeds, so Los Angeles-area customers don't get locally produced series. Also, popular national series like Nova or Frontline are on East Coast time.

"So stick with Charter Communications and KCET, your local public-television station," the spot concluded.

The spot is the beginning of a hoped-for extensive marketing and co-promotion campaign by KCET, vice president of communications Barbara Goen said. The TV station has received an increasing number of calls and letters from subscribers complaining that they bought dishes, "But now we can't get you," she added.

The station ran a letter in its monthly magazine for subscribers, noting that they lose local programming with DBS dishes, before KCET agreed to shoot the commercial for Charter.

Goen said it is too early to determine the impact of the local affiliate's donor support as a result of subscriber migration to the national PBS feed offered on DBS. But loss of funds is always a concern.

Joe Camicia, Charter's vice president of government relations for the Western region, said he lobbied KCET for two months before they came to an agreement on the spot. Charter's systems will run the commercial across its basic satellite channels that the operator believes attract the same demographics as public television. KCET will also run the spot.

"This isn't brain surgery. The more we talked, the more we realized we could help each other out," Camicia said. He also gave KCET the names of other local operators with which the PBS affiliate may wish to partner.

The Los Angeles market has a plethora of off-air channels that are not carried by DBS, and several of them have corporate ties to cable. They include Fox Broadcasting Co.-owned KTTV, channel 11; Viacom Inc.'s United Paramount Network affiliate KCOP, channel 13; Tribune Co.'s KTLA, channel 5; and International Channel's local station, KSCI, channel 18.

Camicia said he continues to talk with other Los Angeles broadcasters and hopes to reach agreements with a few of them.

The National Cable Television Association said it was unaware of similar campaigns elsewhere, but predicted that operators would pick up on Charter's "good idea."

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