Pols, honchos hash out TV transition today

WASHINGTON — With concerns over the digital TV transition at a heightened state, Capitol Hill pols have summoned key parties — including the National Assn. of Broadcasters and the Motion Picture Assn. of America — to a private meeting today.

The session will be refereed by top lawmakers on the House Commerce Committee, including Reps. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.), John Dingell (D-Mich.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.)

Slated to attend are MPAA topper Jack Valenti, NAB topper Edward Fritts, National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. topper Robert Sachs and reps for the consumer electronics industry, including Intel. The Assn. of Local Televisions Stations also is expected to make an appearance.

Digital discussions

“It’s been characterized as an informal digital task force,” a congressional aide said. “It’s an opportunity for everyone to sit down in an informal setting to discuss a wide range of issues and options. In many instances, these groups have competing interests, so it will be interesting to hear from each of the parties.”

Technically, all broadcasters are supposed to be up and running digitally by next year, although they don’t need to abandon their analog spectrum for several more years. It’s clear, with all sides scrambling, that the deadline won’t be met.

Piracy concerns

High on the list of disputes is the issue of copy protection and whether content providers — i.e., Hollywood studios — can be immunized against digital piracy. Otherwise, studios won’t want to license high-quality programming to cablers.

The entertainment biz is split on the issue, with the cable industry and at least two Hollywood studios, Warner Bros. and Sony, already endorsing copy protection technology to be included in digital set-top boxes.

Other studios are holding out for further protection, with the Walt Disney Co. and Fox leading the fight to make sure technology is included to prevent digital TV from being hooked up to the Internet. Otherwise, content providers won’t license movies to broadcasters, only to cablers.

Eisner, Chernin to testify

Mouse House topper Michael Eisner is expected to testify at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on digital TV later this month, along with News Corp. topper Peter Chernin.

Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), chair of the Senate’s commerce panel, is planning to introduce legislation that would allay Disney’s concerns by requiring all parties involved to develop a universal security standard that would address both consumer copying and the Internet.

Also this month, Upton — chair of the House Telecom Subcommittee — will hold an official hearing on the digital TV transition.

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