This year the Federal Communications Commission adopted a rule with two mutually-exclusive but completely intertwined results concerning cable television , known as must-carry and retransmission
The rule basically gave local broadcast TV stations this option: They could demand that local cable systems carry their station; or, they could take their chances that cable systems would think carrying their station was critical to getting people to subscribe to cable, and negotiate a rights fee for that carriage.
The deadline for accepting the must-carry option has passed, and virtually none of the network affiliated stations chose it. They want cash from cable systems. For their part, cable systems have told the affiliates and other stations that they will not pay a cent for their signals. The cable operators figured, among other things, that people would still subscribe to cable for its own sake, and maybe they could provide subscribers inconvenient A/B switches (often for a fee) that would let the viewer switch back and forth from cable to broadcast TV.
Well, a MEDIAWEEK/Leo Burnett survey of cable subscribers has some frightening news for recalcitrant cable systems. The survey found that as many as 65 percent of cable subscribers would drop their cable service altogether if they couldn't receive network affiliated stations.
Despite such leverage, ABC broke ranks last week, agreeing with one cable system to give their stations to cable for free if the cable systems carried its new ESPN2 service. All of which does nothing to help poor media buyers, who have booked or are about to book their cable and network TV upfront buys without knowing whether network won't appear on every cable system, or if two-thirds of cable subscribers will be cancelling. Stay tuned, although some buyers may be trying to cancel.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)