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NAB: local TV could die.

Unless cable starts to pay for network programs it carries, "public service and entertainment provided by local [commercial] broadcasters that Americans have come to rely on, will disappear as we move into the next century."

So argued Edward O. Fritts, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Broadcasters, in a print debate staged by the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University in its latest bulletin.

Retransmission consent, if enforced, "would put the cable industry back in its box. The concept is fatally flawed in terms of its effects and as a matter of basic fairness among competitive industries," replied James P. Mooney, president of the National Cable Association.

Mooney added, "Allowing broadcasters to extract payments from cable operators in exchange for the right to retransmit local broadcast signals. stands the Communications Act of 1984 on its head."

Fritts argued that, since networks' programs are the most popular shows on cable, "they represent most of the value that consumers pay for when they subscribe to cable. The result is that broadcasters have subsidized the growth of their competition and, without regulatory change, will have to continue to do so."

Fritts envisioned a future when, if no cable money flows to the broadcasters, "Americans' television choices will be dictated by the operators of a single wire into the home. Those who cannot subscribe... will become information 'havenots'."

The NAB chief also stressed that advertising sales on cable are rising, "creating incentives for cable systems to discriminate against weaker local broadcasters with whom they compete for advertising sales."

Mooney argued that retransmission implies the broadcasters, rather than the public, own the airwaves, and that, accordingly, "they have the right to determine who can receive their signals free and who has to pay for them."

Cable also reminded that, in pending legislation, the notion of retransmission is paired with the option of "must-carry," which implies that a station could force a cable operator to carry its signal. "This 'heads I win, tails you lose' proposition is simply unacceptable," argued Mooney, who said that broadcasters want to have it both ways.

Mooney also emphasized network earnings are "more than four times higher" than those of all cable networks combined "which would hardly be characteristic of an industry deserving of a bailout at the expense of its competitors and the cable-viewing public."

The Freedom Forum Studies Center, headed by Everette E. Dennis, is an institute for the advanced study of mass communications and technological change.
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Title Annotation:National Association of Broadcasters
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Previous Article:A plea from Germany.
Next Article:Fatal Subtraction - How Hollywood Really Does Business.

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