A little-noted federal court decision in Cleveland last month may have significant implications for tv syndicators.

In dismissing antitrust claims in a 3-year-old suit brought against a public tv syndicator, the Cleveland Federal Court said, in effect, that a program distributor is able to set criteria designating primary and secondary markets.

The suit was brought in 1987 by Northeastern Educational TV of Ohio against the Educational TV Assn. of Metropolitan Cleveland, which operates WVIZ-TV in that market; WVIZ prez and g.m., Betty Cope; Eastern Educational TV of Boston; and Eastern’s program syndication service, IPS.

Northeastern, which operates two Ohio pubcasters, WEAO-TV Akron and WNEO-TV Alliance, claimed that Educational TV’s policy – which states that stations that overlap other stations’ signals are not allowed equal access to programs, in this case those supplied by IPS for WVIZ – is monopolistic.

The court’s opinion apparently endorsed Eastern Educational’s own policy, called Duplicate Market Criteria, which designates primary and secondary markets. The court stated, in part, that “from the television viewers’ perspective, it is…clear that the IPS policy increases the diversity of programming available to the viewing public.”

The opinion goes on to explain that “interbrand competition” is increased by the policy because it causes secondary affiliates, such as the stations operated by Northeastern Educational, “to go to suppliers other than [IPS] to purchase certain programming.”

Among the programs not made available to the overlapping stations and kept exclusive for the primary affiliates was the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s “The Nature Of Things.”

According to Bill Gale, v.p., service at Eastern Educational, this is the first court decision ruling on the legality of exclusive programming licenses in public broadcasting, but it also has application for commercial broadcasting.

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