Pubcasters, cablers ink carriage deal

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WASHINGTON -- Public broadcasters and a cable TV trade group announced a decade-long carriage deal Wednesday that will allow about eight million subscribers to receive PBS' digital programming for the next decade.

The three-way deal between the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS), PBS and the American Cable Assn. comes after a similar deal was signed with the National Cable and Telecommunications Assn. two years ago. The pair of deals mean that cable TV subscribers will have access to PBS digital offerings after the nation switches over to digital transmissions on Feb. 18, 2009.

"The agreement assures that millions more Americans will have access to the rich diversity of high quality, non-commercial digital and high-definition television programming for the foreseeable future," said APTS president and CEO John Lawson.

The 10-year agreement would apply to participating ACA members' high-definition cable systems and include DTV carriage commitments of Public Television stations both pre- and post-digital TV transition. Under the agreement, cable operators would carry the primary signal of the DTV station on the lowest priced tier, while multicast channels would be carried on the tier where other multicast channels are carried. ACA members and PBS station operators are expected to ratify the agreement by mid-October.

ACA's nearly 1,100 member companies serve about 8 million subscribers in all 50 states. There are 361 Public Television stations in the U.S.

"This agreement demonstrates independent cable's support for Public Television's innovative digital programming and the value-added by local public stations through carriage on independent cable systems," said ACA president and CEO Matthew M. Polka.

FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein held out the deal as an example of the type of carriage agreement that could be reached for digital programming when both sides approached the bargaining table with open minds.

"Marketplace agreements, such as this, demonstrate that independent cable operators are serious about negotiating carriage for quality programming and doing what's best for their subscribers," Adelstein said.

PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger called the agreement "an important additional tool" that will allow PBS stations "to serve their communities and will help ensure that every household in the country will reap the benefits of the digital transition."
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