Fox topper bashes must-carry at NCTA

CHICAGO — Rupert Murdoch told cable operators he opposes regulations forcing them to carry digital signals from his Fox TV stations.

In a wide-ranging interview conducted by Fox News Washington editor Brit Hume at the National Cable TV Assn.’s Cable ’99 convention, the News Corp. chairman said: “We’re not for regulation. We’re for an open market. I hope we can create such compelling channels that you’ll be happy to carry them on your digital spectrum.

Murdoch also said he believed his Fox TV stations would be able to reach agreements with cable operators to continue carrying their signals. The retransmission consent deals between stations and cable systems expire this year, and cable ops have been bracing for onerous demands from Fox to renew these agreements.

“We need retransmission, you need retransmission,” said Murdoch. “You need our sports programming, and we need you to build great content.”

Staunch opposition

Asked by Hume why Fox withdrew its 22 stations from the National Association of Broadcasters, Murdoch replied that many of the NAB’s members, such as Hearst and Tribune, want the broadcast networks to be regulated, something Murdoch staunchly opposes.

Though Murdoch is widely considered not to be a fan of the Internet, the News Corp. chief said that Fox is aggressively developing six to 12 major Fox-branded Web sites.

“I’ve been criticized as being against it,” said Murdoch. “I’m not against it all at. There will be convergence of multichannel television and multiple Internet channels.”

Another area where Fox has angered cable ops is in the regional sports business, where Fox Sports Net channels have demanded large fee increases from cablers.

“We hope we will only raise (the price) of regional sports networks by a little more than the rate of inflation,” said Murdoch. “It won’t be 20% a year for the next five years.”

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