A resolution adopted unanimously by the NAB Television Board would have member groups commit not to pull their signals off any cable/satellite/telco system in a retrans dispute for two weeks before and after the February 17, 2009 digital transition. Many of the largest television group owners have already taken the pledge.
The idea of a “quiet period” for carriage interruption around the transition date has been kicking around for a while. NAB Joint Board Chairman Jack Sander from Belo and TV Board Chairman Jim Yager from Barrington briefed FCC Chairman Kevin Martin by phone on the period endorsed by the NAB Television Board of February 4 through March 4. In practice, that’s an eight-week quiet period, since signals can’t be dropped during the sweeps period running March 5 through April 1.
Sander said the conversation with Martin was “very, very positive” and the Chairman encouraged them to speak with the other Commissioners as well. Martin, he noted, said there was nothing “magic” about the earlier date, January 15th, that he had suggested for the quiet period to begin. A spokesperson for Martin told RBR/TVBR the Chairman has not made a decision and is open to consider various options, but does believe some quiet period is needed.
According to Sander, the dates now proposed by the NAB TV Board are the “logical ones” for the quiet period. He said the dates were chosen because the Board was focused on the DTV transition, not other business issues. In his view, the quiet period eliminates one thing that could go wrong with the switch from analog to digital television on February 17th.
Here is the resolution adopted by the NAB TV Board: “The National Association of Broadcasters and local TV stations are committed to the success of the digital television transition. In furtherance of that goal and to minimize any potential for consumer confusion during the DTV transition, NAB’s Television Board of Directors and their member companies hereby commit, on a voluntary basis, to continue to make available to all their distribution partners those broadcast signals being provided as of February 4, 2009; for a period of time beginning on February 4, 2009 through March 4, 2009 – a full two weeks prior to and after the DTV transition date of February 17, 2009. In addition, the TV board is making every effort to secure the same voluntary commitment from the television broadcast industry, including NAB’s television members, the networks and the network affiliate stations.”
Groups who have taken the pledge: ABC Inc., Barrington Broadcasting, Belo Corp., Bonneville International, Citadel Communications, Cox Television, Dispatch Broadcast Group, E.W. Scripps Co., Freedom Broadcasting, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst-Argyle Television, LIN TV, Media General, Meredith Corp. Broadcasting Group, Morgan Murphy Media, NBC TV Network and Media Works, News-Press & Gazette Broadcasting, Post-Newsweek Stations, Quincy Newspapers Inc., Raycom Media, Telemundo, Tribune Company, Univision Communications, WCOV-TV and Young Broadcasting.
In addition to those groups, Sander said the quiet period has been endorsed by the ABC, NBC and CBS affiliate boards. The NAB will also be reaching out to the other network affiliate organizations and to the cable industry as well. “I think we’re going to see an overwhelmingly positive response to this,” Sander said.
That was not the case at the American Cable Association (ACA), where President and CEO Matthew Polka was quick to applaud the idea of taking retrans disputes off the table for the DTV transition – but insisted that the NAB’s proposed period is too short. ACA has called for a quiet period beginning no later than January 1st and running through May 31st.
RBR/TVBR observation: No doubt the cable industry would like a much longer quiet period, say from today through the end of the decade, or beyond. The reality is that both TV stations and the cable/satellite/telco systems have a vested interest in seeing that this transition goes smoothly. That said, there’s also no reason for the cable MSOs to be able to hang onto the DTV transition for an extended period as an excuse for not negotiating seriously on new retransmission consent agreements.