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Affils Make Case to Commerce for Retaining Retrans

The NBC and CBS affiliates have both sent letters to the
Senate Commerce Committee making their pitch for preserving the
must-carry/retransmission consent regime.

In his letter to the committee in advance of a July 24
hearing on the 1992 Cable Act, which created that regime as well as program
carriage and access obligations for cable operators, NBC TV affiliate board vice
chairman Ralph Oakley said that "Congress should not interfere with fair
market negotiations, and it should not choose to subsidize cable and satellite
distributors by disrupting basic property rights and exclusivity protections
that are at the core of our unique broadcasting system."

He said that as the committee reviews the act, it should
keep in mind that local broadcasters spend billions of dollars on news, sports
and entertainment programming, that cable and satellite resell that content,
that in order for broadcasters to pay for that content it needs and deserves
compensation from those resellers, and that under the current system the vast
number deals get done without incident.

In their letter, CBS TV Affiliate Association chair Chris
Cornelius and vice chair Michael Fiorile say that retrans was needed in 1992
and it still needed today. To repeal it, they say, would bring uncertainty and
undercut localism.

They argue that broadcasters aren't asking for unfair
compensation, pointing out cable systems pay 15 times more in fees for the four
most expensive cable nets than for the Big Four broadcast network affiliates.
As to the playing field being tilted toward broadcasters in those negotiations,
they say broadcasters are usually the weaker party in terms of "people
served, revenues, profits and asset values."

"Without fair compensation for the content broadcasters
have created or acquired, local television stations will be fundamentally
impaired in their efforts to innovate. Without the content that the public most
needs and desires," say Cornelius and Fiorile, "the benefits of video
innovation and the vibrancy of our country's media will suffer.... Broadcasters
should be allowed to continue to participate in fair market negotiations with
respect to the resale of their content by pay-TV providers, and the government
should decline to subsidize broadcasters' pay-TV competitors by weakening the
retransmission consent principle and the exclusivity rights that support