Satellite-TV provider Dish Network is telling the Federal Communications Commission that large cash demands by TV stations could lead to carriage disputes early next year on the eve of the transition to all-digital broadcasting.
“Broadcasters are seeking exponentially large increases in per-subscriber costs: Demands are often for increases of over 200% of current rates,” Dish Network said in an Aug. 27 filing at the FCC.
Dish Network officials met with aides to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin on Aug. 26 and Aug. 27 to urge the agency's adoption of a so-called quiet period in which TV stations would remain on cable systems and satellite-TV platforms around the time of the Feb. 17, 2009, digital TV transition.
Key members of the National Association of Broadcasters have proposed a one-month quiet period, from Feb. 4, 2009, to March 4, 2009. Dish Network, agreeing with the cable industry, said the quiet period should begin before thousands of TV-station carriage agreements expire on Dec. 31, 2008.
“Starting a quiet period later than December would be pointless because programming would already be dropped and the harm done. Programming cannot be added back in February absent a new carriage deal,” Dish Network said.
Dish Network, with 13.8 million subscribers nationally, provides local TV signals in about 175 markets.
The NAB claims its quiet period effectively runs until just past the end of March, because cable operators are not allowed to drop TV signals while Nielsen Media Research conducts nationwide TV-audience ratings from March 5 to April 1, 2009. TV stations are highly unlikely to withhold their signals during the ratings measurement because advertising revenue is linked to the results.
“We don't agree with Dish Network's assertion that there will be even modest carriage disruption given the NAB's proactive voluntary seven-week pledge to the commission,” said NAB executive vice president of media relations Dennis Wharton.
Martin has proposed two quiet period dates to the four other FCC members, either Jan. 15, 2009, to Feb. 28, 2009, or Dec. 15, 2008 to Feb. 28, 2009.
The cable industry's leading trade groups, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the American Cable Association, support a quiet period starting on or before Jan. 1, 2009, and lasting until May 31, 2009.