Picking up signals

PrimeTime 24 challenges b'casters, legislation

WASHINGTON — Network signal vendor PrimeTime 24 challenged broadcasters Monday to a test of signal strength.

For the past three years, frustrated network affiliates have watched PrimeTime 24 sell a package of DBS programming that includes signals from TV stations in other markets. With DBS subscribership approaching 4 million homes nationwide, station general managers are furious that thousands of their viewers have a choice between watching “NYPD Blue” on their local channel or, with a little help from PrimeTime 24, via a station thousands of miles away.

All four major affiliate groups have filed lawsuits against PrimeTime 24, contending copyright infringement under the Satellite Home Viewers Act of 1988. Broadcasters claim current law bars PrimeTime 24 from selling its distant market programming to any home that is within the reach of their local stations’ antenna. That reach is determined by maps on file at the FCC.

PrimeTime 24 maintained Monday that its subscribers should be allowed to sign up for distant market channels since their regular TV reception is poor even though they may live within the station’s antenna contours. “It’s time for both the broadcast and satellite industries to focus on an acceptable picture as the standard for providing network programming to consumers,” said PrimeTime 24 CEO Sid Amira.

CBS’ Martin Franks said Monday there is no need to address Amira’s challenge because the intent of Congress is clear on the issue. “Mr. Amira may want to rewrite history but CBS, for one, is not interested in rewriting the legislation,” said Franks. The National Assn. of Broadcasters declined to comment on the case, citing the pending lawsuits.

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