Kevin Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, gives an exclusive interview to Broadcasting & Cable, covering a wide range of topics, including a la carte cable TV pricing, the state of the digital television transition, how broadcaster public interest obligations should be defined and monitored in the digital age, and the potential for use of "white space spectrum" by unlicensed devices.
But perhaps the most interesting ground covered in the lengthy interview was Martin's discussion of multicasting, and his advocacy for mandatory carriage of all digital program streams by cable television providers.
"I think multicast must-carry is an opportunity for the transition and an opportunity for consumers. I think that if we provided multicast must-carry, broadcasters would have both the opportunity and incentive to provide multicasting with their digital signal. They would then be able to serve their local communities with multiple broadcast streams.
"They can't rely on only the 15% of over-the-air households to justify the investment in those additional programming streams. But I think that that 15% of households who are only watching over-the-air television would benefit from having additional broadcast programming streams to watch. Trying to facilitate that would benefit them greatly. They would be able to watch that additional programming even with a simple digital-to-analog consumer device, which is part of the NTIA converter-box program. They wouldn't have to go buy a new HD television set to get the benefits of the digital transition."
If broadcasters have determined that multicast program creation
isn't viable for just the 15% of the market that relies solely on
over-the-air broadcasting, then it's not likely that mandating
multicasting is going to result in programming that meets the needs of
an over-the-air-only audience. Let's face it, the main reason
broadcasters are interested in multicasting is -- quite rightly -- the
ability to expand their advertising revenues. And mandating carriage
makes the potential advertising pie a lot larger.
Also, mandating multicast "must carry" turns upside the whole idea
that broadcasters should be focusing on viewer needs. Rather than
devising new programming that creates new demand -- from both
over-the-air viewers as well as those who subscribe to a pay service --
broadcasters want guaranteed cable carriage of whatever they decide to
produce and disseminate via multicasting.
And that's seems like a great formula for more of the same, delivered in a different way.