NBC, CBS Affiliate Associations Warn Legislators About Importing Signals

The heads of the NBC and CBS affiliate associations wrote top legislators Monday to warn against allowing cable and satellite operators to import TV station signals from in-state, distant markets, which they say could "threaten the viability of local news, weather and sports" and tip the retransmission-consent negotiation balance toward cable in some places.

That's according to copies of both letters sent to Multichannel News.

As part of its consideration of the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act (SHVERA), Congress is also considering modifying the distant signal rules to allow satellite, and potentially cable, to import signals from adjacent markets in certain cases, includingso-called "split markets" where the market crosses state lines and viewers in part of the market are getting stations from the neighboring state.

Broadcasters argue that cable operators can already negotiate for carriage of the local news and sports on adjacent-market stations to rectify that problem, but that changing the law to allow them to import network and syndicated programming that duplicates programming already in the market.

House Communications, Technology & Internet Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) has suggested he supports changing the law to allow adjacent-market imports. But he also said in an interview that retransmission-consent reform would not be part of the bill's reconsideration.

Broadcaster argue that allowing those imports will alter the retrans landscape. "[T]hese proposals would erode the long-standing principle of localism by diminishing local stations' ability to negotiate for retransmission consent fees and earn advertising revenue, both of which support their television service - such as local news, weather, and sports - to their local communities," wrote NBC TV Affliate Association president and chairman Michael Fiorile to the heads of the relevant congressional committees. "These proposals would undermine the delicate balance that Congress intended for retransmission consent negotiations because cable and satellite carriers could play the out-of-market affiliate against the in-market affiliate to frustrate the in-market station's ability to negotiate fair and reasonable retransmission consent fees."

He also said that it would fragment the ad base.

With a weakened retrans hand and ad base, said CBS affiliates chair Scott Blumenthal, "the local affiliates would cut local programming and services, including the very substantial coverage and other services they provide to viewers throughout the local market," causing "wdiespread damage" to local broadcasting.

Blumenthal says that lamost half the 210 TV markets in the country could be affected by the change in the law. Boucher says reauthorizing SHVERA  -- which expires at year-end -- is legislative priority number one. It was the subject of his first hearing as chairman of the subcommittee. Although the bill only deals with cable, Congress is expected to deal with cable's distant signal issues at the same time.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.