PBS Opposes DBS Set-Aside for Noggin


PBS last week asked the Federal Communications Commission
to reject Noggin's request to gain access to direct-broadcast satellite under
public-service set-aside requirements.

Commercial-free Noggin -- the product of a partnership
between Children's Television Workshop and Nickelodeon -- had asked the FCC to
determine its eligibility for DBS set-asides.

Last fall, the FCC ruled that DBS providers DirecTV Inc.
and EchoStar Communications Corp. must set aside at least 4 percent of their channel
capacity for commercial-free, public-interest programming of an educational or
informational nature.

PBS raised concerns that Noggin might one day include
advertising in its format, and it asked the FCC to enforce a prohibition of commercials on
any set-asides.

"We're as commercial-free as you can possibly
be," Noggin general manager Tom Ascheim said last Friday. Noggin has written into its
charter and its 10-year business plan that it will not run ads on-air.

"If for some unforeseen reason we do add commercials,
we'd be happy to no longer qualify" for the set-asides, Ascheim added.

Nickelodeon parent Viacom Inc. "is a multinational,
multibillion-dollar company," PBS associate director of corporate communications Dara
Goldberg said. "They don't deserve [set-aside] protection."

Goldberg added, "4 percent is a very small
number," translating to only six out of 150 channels, for example. PBS believes those
channels should be reserved for universities and other nonprofit ventures, she said.

Noggin currently has carriage on EchoStar's "Top
100" Dish Network package, but not its more basic "Top 40" package. DirecTV
does not carry Noggin.

Without eligibility under the DBS set-aside rules, Noggin
would have a harder time getting carriage, Ascheim predicted. Channel capacity on DBS is
becoming competitive just as it is on cable, he added. Providers tend to look for
advertising avails and marketing support when determining which new channels to add.

"We are in the business of trying to provide
high-quality, commercial-free programming to the kids of America," Ascheim said.
"The more of that there is, the better off everybody would be."

Another cable programmer, BET Holdings Inc. chairman and
CEO Robert L. Johnson, earlier came forward to propose that DBS carriers back a
public-affairs channel devoted to the interests of African Americans, in much the same way
that the cable industry created C-SPAN.