Q&A: McSlarrow Says Let Market Rule

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Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, weighed in last week with his side of the ongoing discussion involving Ion Media Networks’ request for the Federal Communications Commission to endorse digital multicast carriage of Ion’s proposed urban programming service. Ion executive vice president John Lawson had made a further pitch for the proposal in the pages of Multichannel News on July 6. McSlarrow discussed the issue with Washington bureau chief John Eggerton.

Kyle McSlarrow: I have a lot of respect for [Ion executives] Brandon Burgess and John Lawson, and I have had a lot of conversations about this whole set of issues. They have actually been great partners in many ways and I am impressed with their programming.

I think the divide that we have is that I continue to believe that the best, fairest way to insure that quality programming is carried, whether it is on cable or satellite or a telephone pay provider, is in the marketplace competing against a lot of other people who have quality programming. I don’t think it is right to have the government put its finger on the scale, generally speaking, and choose one type of programming over another. And I think it is especially problematic when, as in this case, it appears that they are trying to invent a new model that skirts the licensing regime for what has been free spectrum granted to the broadcasters for the primary signal.

I think there is an open question of what happens to the excess spectrum that broadcasters are not using. But, it is especially suspect when they are not even using it for themselves but are turning around and leasing or assigning or somehow monetizing it with a third party.

And then to add on top of that something as constitutionally questionable as insisting on multicast must-carry rights, I think, is just a very heavy lift.

MCN: Ion has talked about operators not carrying their kids’ or lifestyle channels. Is that a decision by the industry en masse?

KM: No, the one thing I have discovered in this job is there is never a decision that is cable en masse. Individual companies or franchise areas make their own decisions about channel lineups. And when operators generally are at the negotiating table with a lot of networks — and there are vastly more networks than can be carried today — somebody has to make a choice.

MCN: Is there still a bandwidth issue about what you can carry?

KM: There is a bandwidth issue on the video lineup. Over time, I think that becomes less of an issue. The pipe is really a broadband pipe that is being used for increasingly new, non-video services.

If you ask the customer what they want, it is either some combination of more HD programming or faster broadband or news, interactive services.

That I think is where the industry is moving is trying to supply what customers are actually saying they want. Whether somebody views it as a big, fat pipe with lots of bandwidth or something that is constrained, it is limited in some way.

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