PBS, APTS: Cable Headend Consolidation Has Cut Off Viewers

(Image credit: PBS)

Noncommercial TV stations are telling the Federal Communications Comission that the consolidation of multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) headends is cutting off access to some of their audience and could threaten their carriage rights altogether.

PBS and America’s Public Television Stations made that point in a filing with the commission in response to its proposed rulemaking on how to determine a TV station’s designated market area for must-carry purposes.

The FCC is looking at how best to determine a TV station's local market from must-carry purposes.

A noncommercial station can only qualify for must-carry if a headend is within its service contour or within 50 miles of its community of license “reference point.”

But the noncoms said that given changes in cable architecture, with cable operators able to serve more systems from a single headend, that cost efficiency for operators has disrupted viewer access when a headend is moved.

PBS and APTS said they have recieved numerous reports of headend consolidations causing losses in access to local communities. “[A]s a result of headend consolidation in southeastern Georgia,” they told the FCC, “2,200 Georgia residents served by cable systems that had received [Georgia Public Broadcasting] stations for decades lost access to those stations” and their “Georgia-specific news and public affairs programming.”

Theoretically, they said, there appeared to be no regulatory defense against cable operators consolidating their headend to the point that one could feed many dozens of systems in numerous DMA across multiple states. 

“[T]he result would be that only the station or stations located close to the single headend would qualify for carriage on all of the systems served by the single headend,” they said. “The rest of the noncommercial stations that served the states and DMAs in which the consolidated systems were located would have no carriage rights whatsoever.”

They told the FCC they value their partnerships with MVPDs, but that headend relocations should not come at the expense of public-TV viewers. ■

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.