Satellites

Satellites to retransmit local TV stations in HD soon: Murdoch

NEW YORK: News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch has been quoted as saying that the technology is not far away from allowing satellite carriers to retransmit local TV stations in high-definition format.

"Eventually, the technology is coming for that, maybe in three or four years," Murdoch told reporters after testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee on News Corp.'s proposed merger with DirecTV Inc. parent Hughes Electronics Corp.

A multichannel report has quoted Murdoch telling the committee that if he takes control of DirecTV, he would attempt to offer local TV signals in all 210 markets if technically and economically feasible. DirecTV expects to serve the top 100 by the end of the year.

The multichannel report adds that Murdoch and News Corp. did not commit to retransmitting local stations in HDTV if that's the format selected by the local station in House testimony 8 May and in an earlier Federal Communications Commission filing.

According to the report, EchoStar Communications Corp. has repeatedly told the FCC that an HDTV-carriage mandate would consume so much bandwidth that the satellite carrier would have to abandon local TV markets.

The FCC has yet to decide whether direct-broadcast satellite operators have to carry local stations in HDTV.

Murdoch hinted to reporters that there might be a way around the capacity problem. "I think HDTV is basically going to be done by networks. We won't need to repeat each HDTV 200 times," he was quoted as saying in the multichannel report.

That comment suggested that during primetime -- when HDTV is expected to see its most intensive use -- a national network feed would replace the local signal and evidently cut out the affiliate from crucial advertising time during the key evening hours.

During the two-and-one-half-hour hearing -- which seesawed between the DBS merger and the FCC's June 2 broadcast-ownership rulemaking -- Murdoch said News Corp. did not have the incentive nor ability to use DirecTV in an anti-competitive manner and the merger's main purpose was to provide more formidable competition to cable.

But Gene Kimmelman, senior director of advocacy and public policy for the Consumers Union, called News Corp. a "programming juggernaut" that, when combined with the DirecTV asset, would drive up monthly bills for both DBS and cable consumers.

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