Chicago -- Cable operators need to offer more local programming to forge
stronger ties with their communities and challenge TV stations' strong grip on
the local news market, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell
"I think the cable industry has a lot of untapped areas, like in local
communities. I really think there is no reason why a local cable system can't
out-local the local broadcaster," Powell said in a one-on-one National Show
interview here with Michael Willner, vice chairman and CEO of Insight
Communications Co. Inc. and chairman of the National Cable &
Some cable operators -- particularly Cablevision Systems Corp. and Time
Warner Cable -- have embraced local news, but Powell indicated that the industry
as a whole should do more in this area when the vast majority of TV viewers in
many markets subscribe to cable.
"I'd like to see a lot more of that. I'd like to see cable making a presence
in the community, having local news channels," Powell explained. "I think it
would be an enormous maturing of the cable industry to start being a more
approachable presence in people's towns and communities."
On the regulatory front, Powell conveyed the message that cable would be
assuming some risk if the industry rallied behind legislation intended to give
operators greater leverage over programming suppliers.
"Be careful what you ask for," he said. "The public-policy environment is
nervous but not sure what it wants. You hear fights about cable rates,
must-carry and [retransmission consent]. But just remember: There is no surgical
legislation in America anymore."
The NCTA is opposed to legislation that would, in certain circumstances,
require the breakup of large programming packages into smaller tiers.
But Cablevision, Mediacom Communications Corp. and small cable operators have
all voiced support for federal aid in their confrontations with cable networks
controlled by News Corp. and The Walt Disney Co.
Powell reiterated the point that pushing legislation on Capitol Hill carried
risks and rewards. "You open this stuff, you'd better expect to get every
anxiety loaded on that as possible," he said.