Policy

SHVERA Clears First Hurdle

7/04/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

Despite the fears of some broadcasters and the hopes of satellite-TV companies, a House subcommittee markup of the SHVERA reauthorization bill did not turn into a tug-of-war over amendments dealing with short markets and split markets.

What passed in the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Communications, Technology and the Internet Subcommittee on June 25 was essentially a straight reauthorization similar to the first draft bill that circulated a week or so earlier. SHVERA, the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act, grants satellite operators a compulsory license to deliver distant-network signals to viewers who can’t receive a sufficiently strong over-the-air signal in their own market.

The bill would renew that license for five years, updating language to reflect the transition to digital-TV broadcasts and requiring the Federal Communications Commission to develop a new test for sufficient signal strength, based on the old standard of a rooftop antenna.

One issue almost certain to be included in the House’s final version is some spur to delivering local TV signals to the 30 or so TV markets where broadcasters aren’t available on satellite TV — so-called short markets, because satellite-TV viewers there would not have a full complement of local affiliates of CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox.

At press time, people familiar with the process said broadcasters and satellite operators were working on a deal that would get local service into those markets by allowing Dish Network to get back into the distant-signal delivery business.

Currently Dish, must keep an arm’s-length relationship to its distant-signal distributor, NPS, after a court concluded the direct-broadcast satellite firm was having too much trouble correctly identifying who should and shouldn’t be able to get the distant signals.

There was talk of broadcasters possibly foregoing retransmission-consent payments for imported distant signals, to make it more attractive to satellite operators concerned about the cost and possible return on investment. But several broadcast lobbyists called that proposal a nonstarter.

The bill still has a long way to go. Because the Commerce and Judiciary committees in both the Senate and House share jurisdiction over the issue, it must be vetted in four subcommittees.

In the Senate, by one satellite lobbyist’s reckoning, about 85 out of 100 senators are in states that have split markets. Split markets are ones where the Nielsen designated market area crosses state lines and includes viewers in two states. Senators could want split markets addressed over concerns about giving viewers home-state news and sports from adjacent markets — and because they don’t want to waste campaign dollars on TV ads that go into states other than their own.

Notably absent from the markup was an amendment from Rep. Mike Ross (D.-Ark.), who has for several years pushed a bill that would allow both satellite and cable operators to import adjacent-market TV station signals.

Cable and satellite operators would like to be able to deliver adjacent-market signals in split markets and short markets, arguing that consumers deserve to get programming from stations within their own states rather than, say, network affiliates in New York or Los Angeles.

Broadcasters counter that there are already ways to deliver some local programming from in-state stations to those so-called “orphaned” viewers without changing the law. To import adjacent stations’ programming in their entirety, though, would weaken retransmission-consent negotiations and undercut a business model built on local exclusivity for network and syndicated programming.

The House subcommittee chairman, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), said at the hearing he was hopeful of finding some solution to the short-market issue by the time the bill came up for markup in the full committee.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced and then withdrew an amendment that would have allowed for adjacent-market importation, citing public-safety concerns about tornado warnings and one Tennessee market where the satellite carrier did not deliver local TV stations for economic reasons. She withdrew it after Boucher assured her he was confident some solution could be worked out.

September