Broadcasters seeking digital cable carriage should emphasize HDTV programming over multiple programming services at lower resolution, National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Robert Sachs said last week.
"CBS has led the broadcast networks in producing programs in high def. ABC, NBC, and PBS are not far behind. Cable operators want to carry both broadcast and cable programs in HD," Sachs said in welcoming remarks Monday at the National Show here.
As he has on prior occasions, Sachs complained that many broadcasters continue to lobby the Federal Communications Commission for an expansion of their mandatory cable carriage rights. In the digital world, broadcasters argue that cable should carry as many digital programming streams as can fit into a 6-MHz channel.
"Today, that number is six," Sachs said. In Chicago, which has 17 local TV stations, area cable systems' must-carry burden would swell to a maximum 102 channels of programming.
"Lawmakers must ask themselves whether the public interest would be served if TV stations are given such vastly expanded mandatory carriage rights," Sachs said. "To ask the question is to answer it: If programming quality and diversity are public interest goals, the forced carriage of multiple digital channels for every TV station would defeat them."
Cable, he added, is keeping its commitment to FCC chairman Michael Powell to expose consumers to HDTV. Operators offer HDTV in 78 of the top 100 market and in 34 markets below the top 100, he said.
As of June 1, 190 TV stations had gained through negotiations digital cable carriage without losing carriage of their analog signal. As a result, more than half of all U.S. households — 55 million — are passed by a cable system that offers HDTV.
In January 2001, the FCC tentatively concluded that requiring cable carriage of analog and digital TV signals during the transition would violate the First Amendment rights of cable operators. But that decision is under review.
Also under review is the FCC's prior holding that cable's legal obligation to carry a broadcaster's "primary video" did not mean multiple digital programming streams. Primary, the FCC said, meant "one."