McSlarrow: Multicast an Uphill Fight


Washington -- The cable industry has an “uphill” fight ahead to defeat the effort on Capitol Hill to award television stations expanded digital-carriage rights, National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow said Friday.

In a few weeks, key House and Senate committees are expected to decide whether to mandate cable carriage of every free digital service that a TV station can pack into its 6 megahertz of bandwidth. Today, that’s five or six channels. Under current law, cable is required to carry just one programming service.

“I’m a realist. I start off with the proposition that [the National Association of Broadcasters] had a huge advantage over us from the very beginning,” McSlarrow told reporters. “Historically, on these kinds of issues, [they’ve had] unrelenting success after success for 20 years. When’s the last time we won anything on must-carry?”

McSlarrow discussed the potential end game in Congress following remarks to the first diversity luncheon here held by the Mid-Atlantic National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications.

Despite the NAB’s enormous lobbying clout, he said, cable’s arguments against so-called multicast must-carry were gaining ground -- especially cable’s new emphasis on legal arguments dealing with the occupation of private property without just compensation.

“I realize, you know, this isn’t an easy thing. I know it's uphill. All I’m saying is that we’ve made progress,” he added.

McSlarrow said key programming leaders -- Discovery Communications Inc. CEO Judith McHale, Landmark Communications Inc. president and chief operating officer Decker Anstrom and Oxygen Media Inc. chairman and CEO Geraldine Laybourne -- went to Capitol Hill offices in recent days to emphasize that multicast must-carry would crowd out cable networks that don’t have over-the-air access to viewers.

“It’s a pretty simple proposition: If the broadcasters are going to get a claim on the cable pipe broader than what we think they have a right to, which is carriage of the primary video channel, then somebody is not going to get carriage,” he added. “If they are going to fall off and broadcasters get on, that has an impact on diversity.”