Of NyQuil, DayQuil & The Broadcasters

You probably guessed it. We got the flu. Yea, we had our shot this year. But hey! Did you hear the one about this year's flu shot missing 60 percent of the bugs? Sad but true and we're (barely) living proof. So rather than attempt to use our heavily medicated brain cells (suffering is NOT something we do well) we thought we'd try a little experiment: Let words speak for themselves.

The subject is the National Association of Broadcasters' recent missive to the FCC urging that the Commission reject DIRECTV's plan for offering a hybrid satellite/antenna solution for providing local broadcast signals in some U.S. markets. When we first learned about this, we thought it rather odd. Why would the NAB object to a hybrid technology? Is the use of antennas, which millions of Americans still rely on, somehow wrong?

We puzzled over that. We sent an inquiry to the NAB, asking if they could provide more explanation. The folks at the NAB very nicely (and we do mean very nicely considering the fact that we rarely side with them) replied that they were not commenting beyond the letter sent by NAB SVP Jane Mago to the FCC. (What would this industry do without initials?) And they sent the letter, which said (in part):

"DIRECTV Group, Inc. has recently proposed, in connection with News Corp.'s application to transfer control of DIRECTV to Liberty Media, that, instead of delivering local stations by satellite in local markets, it will provide a 'seamless, integrated' antenna in all markets. As the North Dakota Broadcasters and others have shown, DIRECTV's proposal is neither seamless nor integrated since it does not actually contemplate the provision of local-into-local satellite television service in all 210 markets."

We followed the obvious trail of clues (even a DayQuil brain can do that) and we came to the discovery that the broadcasters in North Dakota object to DIRECTV's plan because "it requires the customer to bear the burden -- and the considerable expense -- of retrieving the over-the-air digital signal and delivering that signal to his set-top converter box or digital-television set."

Well, wait a minute. Last we checked it was the U.S. Government which required customers to "bear the burden" of getting digital over-the-air signals via the great digital transition (minus, of course, those nifty $40 coupons). Second, DIRECTV is already in the process of manufacturing boxes that will allow any of the 6 percent of U.S. households outside of the company's existing local-into-local satellite footprint view local channels via their DIRECTV boxes. These antenna-into-satellite boxes will initially sell for $50 ("approximately 15 percent less" than the company pays for them, according to its filings) and, if needed, DIRECTV will provide installation services for digital TV antennas for $99.

Assuming the coupons would apply to the DTV antenna-into-satellite boxes (we're not sure of that but it certainly seems logical), the total cost to the consumer would be $119. Is that a "burden" and "considerable expense"? Well maybe so. But let's not forget that the purpose of all this is to ensure that the broadcasters' digital signals, riding on billions of dollars worth of spectrum that they received for free, can reach consumer in an easy, convenient manner. So why are broadcasters in the business of dictating how other companies supply those signals? And if they're really all that concerned about not imposing any "burden" or "considerable expense" on consumers, well ... why don't they just step up and pay for it?