Sachs offering digital peace with b’casters

NCTA head offers NAB olive branch

Downplaying the strained relationship between cablers and broadcasters as something akin to “love and marriage,” National Cable & Telecom Assn. topper Robert Sachs on Tuesday made partial peace with National Assn. of Broadcasters topper Eddie Fritts and committed to helping educate Americans about digital TV.

Sachs, speaking at an NAB retreat in Pebble Beach, Calif., said his trade org will soon launch advertising campaigns in those markets where cablers are offering hi-def, digital TV. The effort piggybacks a joint ad campaign begun last year by NAB and the Consumer Electronics Assn.

“I’m delighted to be here and must tell you that when Eddie invited me to speak, I was both surprised and pleased. Surprised, because — after all — I do represent the cable industry. Pleased, because our industries should engage in this kind of dialogue,” Sachs said.

Sachs, though, avoided any mention of the most contentious point dividing broadcasters and cablers on the issue of the digital TV transition –whether cablers should be forced to carry all digital signals.

Broadcasters have long insisted that cablers be required to carry any and all digital signals. Otherwise, the switch to digital TV will remain stalled.

Under federal rule, the nation’s 1,309 TV stations are supposed to be transmitting digitally by May. As of Tuesday, the FCC has granted time waivers to more than 50% of stations.

The advent of digital TV will give stations as many as five or six channels, which they can combine and use for hi-def programming, or use separately for secondary programming.

So far, Washington hasn’t wanted to step in and play referee when it comes to the carriage issue, despite repeated entreaties by NAB.

Outlining the advertising campaign plugging digital TV, Sachs said blurbs would begin appearing in the 42 markets where Time Warner is offering hi-def programming, as well as in Philadelphia, where Comcast is offering hi-def.

Sachs said the ad campaign also would include the seven markets where Charter Communications announced Tuesday that it will soon launch hi-def, including St. Louis, Birmingham, Ala., and South Miami.

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