In what may be the first pre-emption of its kind, KETV-TV Omaha announced on Sunday that the digital high definition signal of KETV-DT is no longer being carried on the area’s Cox cable television systems. According to KETV, parent Hearst-Argyle and Cox have not agreed to terms for the carriage of KETV-DT’s high-definition digital programming. (Cox has apparently not issued a press statement regarding the issue.) KETV-TV Channel 7 and KETV-DT Channel 20 are among Omaha’s leading analog and digital television stations, respectively.
According to KETV, "the removal of the station’s digital signals from the Cox system is the result of unsuccessful negotiations between representatives of Hearst-Argyle Television, Inc., KETV-TV’s parent company, and Cox. Hearst-Argyle is seeking fair and reasonable terms from Cox in return for allowing Cox to carry KETV-DT’s programming and charge its subscribers for access to that programming. So as not to inconvenience a large number of its viewers, Hearst-Argyle will allow Cox to continue to retransmit KETV-TV’s primary analog signal while the companies continue to work in good faith toward a resolution of retransmission consent terms."
"We’re greatly disappointed that Cox could not arrive at a mutually satisfactory solution," said Joel Vilmenay, KETV-TV/DT president and general manager. "Our station is a leader in our market and we’ve made substantial investments to bring our viewers high definition digital programming. Cox has been actively promoting to current and prospective subscribers the addition of our digital channel to its lineup for an additional monthly fee, and we’re certainly supportive of that. But they won’t come to terms with us on providing fair consideration for that right. To allow any re-distributor of our station’s digital signal to benefit economically from our efforts without providing us a reasonable contract for that right would be unacceptable for us."
"We sincerely hope we and Cox can return to negotiations quickly so as not to deprive Cox cable customers of high definition programming," Vilmenay added. "However, our viewers can still receive our high-definition signal using an appropriate tuner or antenna."
The "must-carry" and "retransmission consent" rules currently apply either to an analog or to a digital transmission, but there is no requirement for cable operators to carry both, if so requested. While the situation will become moot in 2009, when all analog transmissions cease, there is still no provision for carrying other than the "main channel" video program. Despite ongoing lobbying, and some legislative proposals from Congress, broadcasters currently have no way of guaranteeing that all the subchannels of a multicast will be carried by cable operators. In June, the FCC seemed poised to adopt a multicast digital must-carry rule-but then pulled the item at the last minute from the monthly meeting’s agenda. According to industry sources, it is believed there was insufficient Commissioner support to pass the resolution.
Is this the beginning of a trend that will portend similar disputes in the future? We think not, but there could be more isolated incidents like this over the next few years until the cut-off date. In the meantime, time to check the stock prices of antenna manufacturers…