February 8, 2005
Belo reaffirms its commitment to the public interest, appeals to Congress to ensure multicast access for local programming
Dallas, TX -- Belo Corp. (NYSE: BLC) delivered the attached letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate Commerce Committees and other select members of Congress, reaffirming local broadcasters' commitment to continue providing public interest programming in today's digital era, an obligation they have fulfilled since the inception of television. In the letter, Robert W. Decherd, Belo's chairman, president and chief executive officer, encourages members of Congress to recommend to the FCC that it require cable operators to carry a broadcaster's entire multicast signal -- the entire spectrum licensed to them. Without multicast must-carry requirements, cable operators will be allowed to use part of local broadcasters' spectrum for their own financial interests that are not tied in any way to public interest programming. Multicast must-carry provisions will ensure that local broadcasters retain control of their licensed spectrum and gain the digital signal's flexibility to expand local programming.
Belo Corp. is one of the nation's largest media companies with a diversified group of market-leading television, newspaper, cable and interactive media assets. A Fortune 1000 company with approximately 7,600 employees and $1.5 billion in annual revenues, Belo operates media franchises in some of America's most dynamic markets and regions, including Texas, the Northwest, the Southwest, Rhode Island, and the Mid-Atlantic. Belo owns 19 television stations (six in the top 15 markets); owns or operates seven cable news channels; and manages one television station through a local marketing agreement. Belo's daily newspapers are The Dallas Morning News, The Providence Journal, The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA) and the Denton Record-Chronicle (Denton, TX). Belo operates more than 30 Web sites, several interactive alliances and a broad range of Internet-based products. Additional information, including earnings releases and corporate communications, is available online at www.belo.com. For more information contact Carey Hendrickson, vice president/Investor Relations & Corporate Communications, at 214-977-6626.
February 8, 2005
Dear Mr. Chairman:
Belo Corp., along with all local television licensees, embraces the opportunity to serve our local communities in new and exciting ways in a digital era. Questions have been raised as to what, if any, public interest obligations the industry should undertake as part of our compact with viewers and the federal government for use of the spectrum. The answer is: exactly the same as we local broadcasters have always undertaken.
Digital technology differs markedly from analog in that it allows broadcasters to deliver superior picture quality and multiple broadcast channels. The differences end there.
Today, local television broadcasters are licensed 19.4 megabits per channel to transmit a single analog signal. We are allowed to build a business around that spectrum so long as it meets a public interest standard. In the digital world, broadcasters also are licensed 19.4 megabits that may be used for a single channel or multiple channels, and likewise should be allowed to build a business applying the same public interest principles we currently have in analog. This is exactly the same amount of spectrum that television licensees have been granted for more than half a century, since the inception of television.
Broadcasters understand and accept that whether they transmit their signal in analog or digital, single or multiple channels, an obligation to operate in the public interest attaches to the license. However, if cable operators are not required to carry a broadcaster's entire multicast signal, the FCC will have given cable operators the use of a significant part of the broadcast spectrum to increase their own capacity needs at no cost to the MSOs. This spectrum will no longer be used to fulfill the public interest obligation that is required of a broadcast licensee; rather it will be used by cable operators in an unlicensed fashion to fulfill their own financial interests, expanding capacity on cable systems for pay services that are not tied in any way to public interest programming. What kind of trade-off is this?
Belo's responsibility is to our local communities. This responsibility is unchanged in the digital world and if anything, the digital transition and multicasting allow us to provide our viewers with more, not less, public interest programming. Multicasting is by its very nature in the public interest. Local broadcasters know better than anyone that if you are not providing viewers with programming that directly benefits their daily lives, they will turn to other sources to fulfill that need. Competition for viewers is too intense for Belo stations to turn away from that commitment. We have a responsibility to and an ongoing relationship with our local communities whether we are using digital technology to operate one channel or four. In the digital world, Belo stations will strive to meet viewers' expectations and continue to offer the highest standard of programming that benefits our local communities. This is the bedrock of what we do and it separates us from all other programming sources available to consumers today and in the future.
There are hundreds of cable and satellite channels today that have nothing to do with local news and information. MSOs are moving rapidly to telephony and broadband Internet services. Is there no rationale for permitting local television licensees to maintain control over, and flexibility with, the same amount of spectrum the federal government has licensed to us from the beginning of television? Of course there is.
Thank you for taking an interest in this critical public policy question.