NBC Affiliates Balk at Flag Exemption


Some broadcasters are worried that their news and public-affairs programming won't be protected by pending federal rules from wanton Internet redistribution.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell has said that the agency would vote this month on rules -- known as the broadcast flag -- to protect digital-broadcast programming from Internet redistribution in violation of copyright law.

But NBC affiliates are evidently concerned that the commission is considering an exemption for news and public-affairs programming.

"For local NBC affiliates, a broadcast-flag system that does not protect news and public-affairs programming would substantially gut the utility of this important technology," said Roger Ogden, chairman of NBC's Television Affiliates Association, in an Oct. 6 letter to Powell.

The broadcast flag would, in electronics-copyright parlance, consist of a "redistribution-control descriptor" embedded in the digital bit stream. Devices with digital tuners would need to recognize the flag to protect the programming from entering the Internet.

The exemption for news and public-affairs programming was the idea of the Consumer Electronics Association.

"We believe there is a substantial public interest in news and public-interest programming. Consumers should be free to make flexible use of that material," CEA vice president of technology and policy Michael Petricone said.

Powell considers adoption of broadcast-flag technology a key ingredient in the transition to digital TV by terrestrial broadcasters.

The "Big Four" networks, which supply the affiliates with primetime programming, have asserted that without copy protection for over-the-air broadcasting, high-end programming such as HDTV movies and sports would migrate to secure cable and direct-broadcast satellite platforms.