NAB Takes Aim at DIRECTV's Hybrid Proposal

The nation's biggest broadcast lobbying group took aim at a proposal floated by DIRECTV that would use hybrid terrestrial/satellite technology to deliver stations in markets not covered by the DBS service's local TV efforts.

In an effort to win regulatory approval for Liberty Media's proposed takeover of a controlling stake in the small dish TV platform, DIRECTV said it would offer an integrated terrestrial antenna solution to customers in markets without local channels delivered via satellite. In a letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission this week, Jane Mago of the National Association of Broadcasters said the hybrid DBS/terrestrial service "is neither seamless nor integrated since it does not actually contemplate the provision of local-into-local satellite television service in all 210 markets."

Mago, NAB's senior vice president and counsel, said that when News Corp. took a controlling interest in DIRECTV in 2003, the same stake Liberty Media is attempting to acquire, the DBS service promised to provide access to local channels in all 210 market areas. The FCC didn't impose that condition on the News Corp./DIRECTV deal, but instead asked the company to deliver locals via satellite to an additional 30 markets by the end of 2004.

That earlier promise on delivering locals to all markets "will be wholly empty if the commission does not hold DIRECTV to the commitment of true local-into-local DBS service, as Congress, the commission, and the public understood it to be at the time and not the revisionist contradiction of that promise that DIRECTV now advances," the NAB executive's letter stated.

There was no formal response to the NAB letter from DIRECTV. However, past FCC filings from DIRECTV suggested that the DBS company has plans in place to offer a "seamless, integrated local channel package in all 210 DMAs," part of a push to offer a mix of technologies for delivering local TV channels.

The terrestrial/satellite integrated solution, which promises to offer consumers a seamless experience with DBS programming and local TV reception, is expected to be in place this year.

In addition to receiving FCC approval, DIRECTV and Liberty Media are awaiting an OK from antitrust staff at the Justice Department for their transaction.