TV One, the African-American-targeted network, last week asked the FCC to deny Ion Media and Urban Television's request for mandatory carriage of their proposed African-American-aimed network, saying their gain would be TV One's loss.
Ion/Urban have argued that mandatory carriage of Ion's multicast TV channels, on which the network will run, is the only way it will become a viable new voice for minority programming, furthering the FCC's diversity goals.
While saying it supported "greater focus on African-American viewers, TV One countered that such carriage would override the FCC's "sound decision" to not to grant broadcasters multicast must-carry, which it says the FCC's Media Bureau lacks the authority to do anyway.
Granting Ion/Urban's request, TV One argues, would "open the floodgates" to other such requests, resulting in the "wholesale displacement" of cable channels like TV One that have "earned carriage on MVPD's by dint of the quality and appeal of their programming, not by manipulating the regulatory system.
BET founder Bob Johnson, who is now leading the charge for Urban Television, fired off a letter to TV One chairman Alfred Liggins, over the network's FCC filing.
Johnson, currently chairman of RLJ companies, who would also become chair of Urban Television if and when it receives the FCC go-ahead, told Multichannel News that he was disappointed by TV One's opposition.
"I was disappointed that they would try to make this a competition between BET and Urban Television," he said." We should be joining forces together and saying we need more carriage, not less carriage. We need more minority progrmming, not less minority programming."
TV One's opposition is not a big surprise. A host of niche networks, and not-so-niche networks for that matter, have weighed in against broader multicast must-carry proposals because of fears they will be jettisoned to make room for them.
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association opposes Urban TV as well. In a December filing, NCTA said that, "[C]ostumed in the sheep's clothing of a harmless share-time agreement," waxed the cable lobby, "this is the wolf of multicast must-carry."
Ion wants the FCC to treat the multicast stations as separate licensees and assign a portion of that license to Urban to program. NCTA says there are no licenses to assign because there hasn't been any showing that the novel proposal squares with current FCC rules and regulations -- which the cable organization argues it does not.
The FCC has already rejected multicast must-carry, twice at least, and NCTA says it must do so again.
Cable operators already have a problem with mandatory station carriage as a government thumb on the scale of private carriage negotiations, as well as a taking of property and a violation of cable's First Amendment rights as the editors of their own service.
NCTA said that an additional carriage mandate would knock other channels off their lineups and delay the roll-out of more bandwidth-heavy services like HDTV and interactive applications.
But Ion Media and Johnson's Urban Television have a number of supporters. In separate filings with the FCC, Media Access Project/Common Cause and nearly a dozen civil rights groups weighed in on the proposal.
In their filing, MAP and Common Cause said that what amounts to a shared licensing scheme was a creative initiative and could help boost broadcast diversity. They said the proposal is an improvement on time brokerage agreements because the programmer would have an ownership interest in the station licenses.