The National Association of Broadcasters is trying harder to get Congress to mandate cable carriage of multicast broadcast streams.
The move comes less than two months after NAB members reluctantly agreed to a 2009 “hard date” to return analog spectrum. DTV bills are pending in both the House and Senate.
As part of the campaign, the NAB last Wednesday detailed a study touting the supposed benefits of distributing digitally divided multiple broadcast streams to consumers and local economies.
The study found that multicasting would result in more in-depth news and information programs, more regional news and more niche content for specific demographic groups.
Other benefits cited include more options for local advertisers, which cable operators have been courted by describing local cable advertising as more targeted and efficient than ads on local TV stations.
“This new competitive offering by multicast could throw a wrench into those plans,” said David Gunzerath, the NAB's vice president of research. “The lack of success of stations to date to gain multicast carriage clearly suggests that this dynamic is at play.”
According to a NAB survey of 450 stations conducted in July 2005, nearly 80% of local TV stations are unlikely to multicast without assurances of cable carriage.
“This is also about more competition to cable,” said NAB president Eddie Fritts. “That's why the cable gatekeepers will fight it so fiercely. They don't like competition.”
Fritts said multicasting will be the NAB's “No. 1 priority” when Congress returns in September. “We've been focused on it in August like a laser beam,” he said. “We've been working around the clock to make sure that Congress understands the importance of DTV legislation.”
Key committees in both the House and Senate are wrapping up language on DTV bills, with markups expected within the next few weeks.
On Sept. 8, at least 91 broadcasters will fly into Washington, D.C., to lobby key members to support a multicasting mandate. In a similar “fly-in” on July 21, some 65 broadcasters met with members of the Senate Commerce Committee. NAB is also taking out print ads in Capitol Hill newspapers.
The cable industry has been comparing mandated multicasting to a “free ride” for broadcasters and is already gearing up for a fight.
“NAB's tired rhetoric doesn't disguise the fact that broadcasters are asking the government for another handout that the FCC has already twice rejected, would harm diversity in programming and would do nothing to speed the digital-TV transition,” National Cable & Telecommunications Association spokesman Brian Dietz said. “Instead of asking for another free ride, broadcasters should follow cable's lead and present a viable plan for ending the digital transition.”
NAB lobbyists are working to discredit key cable arguments against multicasting, including the contention that carrying multiple program streams would sap needed capacity.
“This is about competition,” said John Orlando, NAB's executive vice president of government relations. “This is not about capacity. The capacity argument is a bogus argument. The myth needs to be knocked off the table.”
Fritts predicted that despite the cable industry's opposition, the final DTV bill will ultimately include a multicasting provision. “When it's all said and done, multicasting will be a way of life.”