News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch said Thursday that the technology is not
far away from allowing satellite carriers to retransmit local TV stations in
"Eventually, the technology is coming for that, maybe in three or four
years," Murdoch told reporters after testifying before the Senate Commerce
Committee on News Corp.'s proposed merger with DirecTV Inc. parent Hughes
In his testimony, Murdoch told the committee that if he takes control of
DirecTV, he would attempt to offer local TV signals in all 210 markets if
technically and economically feasible. DirecTV expects to serve the top 100 by
the end of the year.
However, in House testimony May 8 and in an earlier Federal Communications
Commission filing, Murdoch and News Corp. did not commit to retransmitting local
stations in HDTV if that's the format selected by the local station.
EchoStar Communications Corp. has repeatedly told the FCC that an
HDTV-carriage mandate would consume so much bandwidth that the satellite carrier
would have to abandon local TV markets.
The FCC has yet to decide whether direct-broadcast satellite operators have
to carry local stations in HDTV.
Murdoch hinted to reporters that there might be a way around the capacity
problem. "I think HDTV is basically going to be done by networks. We won't need
to repeat each HDTV 200 times," he said.
That comment suggested that during primetime -- when HDTV is expected to see
its most intensive use -- a national network feed would replace the local signal
and evidently cut out the affiliate from crucial advertising time during the key
During the two-and-one-half-hour hearing -- which seesawed between the DBS
merger and the FCC's June 2 broadcast-ownership rulemaking -- Murdoch said News
Corp. did not have the incentive nor ability to use DirecTV in an
anti-competitive manner and the merger's main purpose was to provide more
formidable competition to cable.
But Gene Kimmelman, senior director of advocacy and public policy for the
Consumers Union, called News Corp. a "programming juggernaut" that, when
combined with the DirecTV asset, would drive up monthly bills for both DBS and