Supremes’ bird call

Court lets stand satcaster 'carry all' reg

NEW YORK — In a blow to EchoStar’s Charlie Ergen, the Supreme Court on Monday let stand a federal law requiring satcasters to carry either all local broadcasting signals in a market or none at all.

The robes refused to take the case, meaning Ergen and the Satellite Broadcasting & Communication Assn. must live with a lower court’s finding that the must-carry rule does not violate the First Amendment in dictating what satcasters must carry. Ergen and the SBCA jointly brought the legal challenge.

Broadcasters hailed the high court’s decision. When it passed the law in 1999, Capitol Hill said it wanted to ensure satcasters didn’t carry only the top TV stations in any given market.

“We’re pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the ‘carry one, carry all’ mandate of Congress,” National Assn. of Broadcasters prexy-CEO Eddie Fritts said. “This decision represents a major victory for viewers by enhancing the diversity of local television station choices on satellite.”

Satcasters and broadcasters have been at odds over the carriage rule, with NAB pointing to Ergen’s court fight as a reason why Washington should scrub the proposed EchoStar/DirecTV merger. NAB said Ergen isn’t as committed as he says he is to carrying local TV stations.

‘Meaningful’ issue

If the merger is cleared, EchoStar and DirecTV have promised the combined conglom would have enough spectrum to begin carrying local broadcast signals in all of the country’s 211 television markets, with one caveat — that the stations air “meaningful” content.

Ergen has told Capitol Hill solons he was challenging the “carry one, carry all” rule in court on principle and that the fight did not contradict his pledge to serve all local markets.

The SBCA said the high court set a bad precedent.

“As we have said from the outset, consumers in the marketplace should decide what programming satellite companies carry, not a federal mandate,” SBCA prexy Andy Wright said. “Today’s action will reduce competition and will mean that millions of consumers in smaller and midsized markets will not receive local channels via satellite and will be forced to rely on frequently unreliable over-the-air broadcast signals for their local channels.”

DirecTV’s Pax pact

Coincidentally, DirecTV and Paxson Communications announced Monday that the satcaster will begin carrying Pax owned-and-operated stations in 37 markets, including WPXN in Gotham and KPXN in Los Angeles. Agreement was struck under the terms of the same must-carry rule.

“Our local advertisers are now able to reach the high-end DirecTV customer. This also will allow DirecTV viewers access to Pax’s strong local programming,” Paxson prexy-CEO Jeff Sagansky said.

DirecTV already carried Pax’s national network feed, but this didn’t allow local advertisers access to viewers in that particular market, Paxson veep for cable Karsten Amlie said. The local pickup by EchoStar could allow each station’s sales force to generate substantial additional revenue.

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