Channel 21 Concord NH down to 2 subchannel while Channel 68 is up to 4

Scott Fybush
Sun Dec 30 09:20:16 EST 2012

On 12/30/2012 12:12 AM, Bob DeMattia wrote:
> *Scott Fybush wrote: *
> *Must-carry applies to only one program stream per must-carry station.
> Everything else is negotiated, and ion doesn't have the leverage to force
> its subchannels on cable.*
> Ion owns both 21 and 68, both in Boston DMA.  As far as I've seen,
> only one stream is carried on cable.  I would guess because the
> primary channel is the same on both stations.
> Is it just the primary stream that must be carried?  If not, who
> decides which one subchannel is must-carry?

In general, it's the x.1 stream. I think stations can choose another 
stream as their "primary" stream in theory; I'm not sure I've ever seen 
it done in practice.

> Is there some way Ion can use both stations to get two streams
> carried?  Perhaps using different programming on 21-1?

Not easily. Because 21 (and 58 on the Cape) are considered "satellite" 
stations of 68, they aren't automatically entitled to carriage 
throughout the Boston DMA. If it chose to do so, ion could put separate 
programming on 21 and 58, but at a price. First, it would have to 
establish separate main studios for 21 and 58, which means staffing and 

Second, and more vexingly, ion would face pushback from cable companies. 
They can fight the presumption of must-carry throughout a DMA by 
demonstrating that the station in question does not deliver a 
satisfactory over-the-air signal to the cable system's headend (which 
the station can cure by delivering a signal by alternate means such as 
fiber or satellite, another cost to be factored in). They can also fight 
the presumption of must-carry by demonstrating to the FCC that the 
station has no history of cable carriage or significant viewership in 
the community in question. That's certainly true of 21 anywhere south of 
the NH/MA line, and of 58 anywhere beyond the Cape and maybe Plymouth 
County. It becomes an expensive fight on both sides, since these cases 
have to be proved (or disproved) on a town-by-town basis. And even if 
ion won, it would almost surely then face blowback from cable companies 
in NH and on the Cape trying to drop 68 from Boston on that same basis!

This situation has long vexed anyone trying to serve the entire New York 
DMA from any station that's not right in New York City. Channel 43 in 
Bridgeport, Connecticut, under a variety of calls, has long struggled to 
enforce mandatory must-carry beyond the Connecticut part of the market. 
So has channel 55 from Long Island, which still has only spotty carriage 
in New Jersey - though that's about to change now that CBS owns it and 
can bundle its carriage with WCBS-TV.

> On another related topic:
> Since one stream is must-carry, how does this affect the "program strikes"
> that seem to pop up now and then - for example when WHDH disappeared
> from Direct TV a few years back because Direct TV didn't want to pay
> Sunbeam what Ansin was asking.  Is it must-carry only when the
> cable operator agress to pay the TV station what they are asking?
> It seems like the operator could get around must-carry by simply refusing to
> pay the asking price, no matter how low.

As Larry notes, must-carry is must-carry. If you elect that option 
(stations make the choice every two years), you are guaranteed a spot on 
cable (on your virtual channel number or a lower position, or a 
mutually-agreed other channel) but you don't get any money from the 
cable system.

It's only if you make the other choice - "retransmission consent" - that 
you get to negotiate with the cable or satellite company. If you can 
strike a deal, you get carried. If you can't, you don't.

The decision about which path to take is generally dictated by how 
desirable your programming is. If you're a CBS/NBC/ABC/Fox affiliate and 
you know that your programming is important to cable subscribers, you 
generally go for retrans consent and try to strike a deal, knowing the 
cable company will also suffer if it can't come to terms with you. If 
you're WBPX or WNEU or WWDP, you take the must-carry and run. And if 
you're WSBK or WLVI, you go for "retrans consent" that's tied in with 
your bigger and more desirable parent station, WBZ-TV or WHDH-TV. 
Whatever deal CBS reaches with cable for 4 also includes 38, and the 
deal for 7 includes 56.

(This is also how subchannels get on cable: whatever deal Hearst strikes 
with Comcast to keep WCVB/WMUR on cable will also include MeTV on 
5.2/9.2, for instance. In some cases, stations owned by companies that 
also own cable networks will try to bundle carriage negotiations for 
both, so Fox might try to tie carriage of FX into its negotiations for 

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