Ergen’s Must-Carry Solution

2/28/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen met with reporters last week for a breakfast briefing before his testimony on reauthorization of the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act, the bill that sets the rules of the road for satellite carriage of local TV stations.

Ergen is a veteran of SHVERA reauthorizations and he has pitched many of these concepts before — he even said that he sounds like a broken record sometimes. But Ergen doesn’t hold many press conferences and time was short, so it was all briefing and no breakfast.

Here were some highlights (for more from his briefing, please see

On must-carry: “One of the problems with must-carry is that we have a spotlight on the entire United States. If we have a channel that doesn’t have any local content and we put that up today, we cover all the constituents with that one channel. There is no reason to put that up in every local market. … Shopping channels, religious channels or Univision stations carrying the national Univision feed — why do we have to put that up? …

The practical thing would be that to qualify for must-carry, you should have some kind of local content. We’ve said 20 hours a week seems to be reasonable. … We carry 1,400 stations. About 240 [have] no local content, and many others have very little.”

On carrying local stations in all 210 markets: “Rep. Bart Stupak [D-Mich.] says carry all 210 DMAs [and has introduced a bill to that effect].

There are two problems. One is economic.

Even if we got all the customers in the DMA, we probably couldn’t make money at it. It costs more than $1 million per DMA to build a satellite. And you’d have ongoing costs of about $250,000 a year to import the signal via fiber to your uplinks. …

So, take Glendive, Mont., with 3,000 homes. If you got every single home to buy your service, you could never cover the cost.

Even if we wanted to be good-deed doers … we still have a fundamental problem. We do 178 markets. The rest of the 210 don’t have all four [network affiliates]. We don’t have the right under copyright law today to bring in [a station from] an adjacent DMA. If you expand the definition of local-into-local to include adjacent DMAs, you solve that problem.

In Glendive, where they don’t have a CBS affiliate, you could bring it in from Great Falls.”