In cable television
, governments apply a must-carry
regulation stating that locally-licensed television stations must be carried on a cable provider's system.
Australia & NZ
Australia has very few cable television systems on a per capita basis. The Australian regulator may not have any must-carry rules. However, because of the relative dearth of media in Australia, and the coming of digital television there -- one must assume that there is a must carry imperative for all terrestrially broadcast TV channels including the community Channel 31
NZ has even fewer cable systems on a per capita basis than Australia coupled with a similar dearth of local media. It can be safely assumed that any NZ cable system would carry all available terrestrial TV stations that can be received at its various head ends.
In the mid to late late 1970s, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
(CRTC) implemented a rule that a cable system must carry a terrestrial TV channel at no cost to the terrestrial broadcaster so long as that channel was transmitted at at least 5w EIRP. This CRTC rule may have changed over the years, but in principle a 1kw EIRP terrestrial TV station must be carried. The status of terrestrial digital only
channels with respect to the must-carry requirement is untested as, unlike the US, very little ATSC
is on-air in Canada as of 2008
and the few channels active are merely HDTV
versions of existing analogue programming in major centres such as Toronto
with no additional digital subchannels
CITY-TV of Toronto (according to its own website and annual reports) owes its financial success as an independent TV station to this CRTC must-carry rule. It is assumed that this must-carry rule was aimed at small TV stations in Ontario and Quebec, many of which are not carried by satellite television providers.
The Canadian must-carry rules have so far created very little friction between terrestrial broadcasters and cable systems, as cable systems are allowed to more aggressively implement other digital telecommunications services (like cable internet services and IP telephony) with less overall regulation than their US counterparts.
In the United States
, the Federal Communications Commission regulates
this area of business and public policy. These rules were upheld in a 5-4 decision by the United States Supreme Court in 1997 in the case Turner Broadcasting v. FCC
(95-992). The United States was the first country to implement a must-carry scheme.
Although cable service providers routinely carried local affiliates of the major broadcast networks, independent stations and affiliates of minor networks were sometimes not carried, on the premise it would allow cable providers to instead carry non-local programming which they felt would attract more customers to their service.
Many cable operators were also equity owners in these cable channels, especially TCI, then the nation's largest multiple system operator (MSO), and had moved to replace local channels with equity-owned programming. This pressure was especially strong on cable systems with limited bandwidth for channels.
The smaller local broadcasters argued that by hampering their access to this increasing segment of the local television audience, this posed a threat to the viability of free-to-view broadcast television, which they argued was a worthy public good.
Local broadcast stations also argued cable systems were attempting to serve as a "gatekeeper" in competing unfairly for advertising revenue. Some affiliates of major networks also feared that non-local affiliates might negotiate to provide programming to local cable services to expand their advertising market, taking away this audience from local stations, with similar negative impact on free broadcast television.
Although cable providers argued that such regulation would impose an undue burden on their flexibility in selecting which services would be most appealing to their customers, the current "must-carry" rules were enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1992, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the rules in rejecting the arguments of the cable industry and programmers in the majority decision authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy. That decision also held that MSO's were functioning as a vertically integrated monopoly.
A side effect of the must-carry rules is that broadcast networks cannot charge the cable-TV companies license fees for the program content retransmitted on the cable network, except potentially as a part of retransmission consent agreements in lieu of must-carry.
There are a few exceptions, most notably:
- Must-carry may only be applied if the television station wants to be carried under this provision. This only applies to NCE (noncommercial educational) stations. Station operators are allowed to demand payment from cable operators, or negotiate private agreements for carriage, or threaten revocation against the cable operator (see Sinclair, Time Warner Cable). Must-carry is privilege given to television stations, not a cable company. A cable company can not use Must-Carry to demand the right to carry a OTA station against the station's wishes.
- A station does not have distribution under must-carry legislation until a certain number of days after it provides usable signal to the headend for the cable or satellite provider; the station must pay the expense of leased lines to reach providers such as Colorado-based Dish Network or California-based DirecTV.
- Foreign signals, such as Windsor stations or McAllen's Fox affiliate (XHRIO-TV), are not required to be carried.
- Most low-power broadcast stations are not required to be carried.
Digital must-carry — also called "dual must-carry" — is the requirement that cable companies carry both the analog
and digital transmissions
of local stations. This has been opposed by numerous television networks
, who might be bumped off of digital cable
were this to happen, and promoted by TV stations and the National Association of Broadcasters
, whom it would benefit by passing their HDTV
or multichannel DTV
signals through to their cable viewers. In June, 2006 the FCC was poised to pass new digital must-carry rules, but the item was pulled before a vote actually took place, apparently due to insufficient support for the chairman's position.
In September, 2007, the Commission approved a regulation that requires cable systems to carry both analog and digital signals if the cable system uses both types of transmission. Small cable operators were allowed to request a waiver. The regulation will end three years after the digital TV transition date, and applies only to stations not opting for retransmission consent.
A variation of "must-carry" also applies to DBS
services like DirecTV and DiSH Network, as first mandated by the Satellite Home Viewer Act of 1988. They are not required to carry local stations in every metro area
in which they provide service, but must carry all
of an area's local stations if they carry any at all. Sometimes, these will be placed on spotbeams
: narrowly-directed satellite signals targeted to an area of no more than a few hundred miles diameter, in order to allow the transponder frequencies to be re-used in other markets
. In some cases, stations of lower perceived importance are placed on "side satellites" which require a second antenna. This practice has raised some controversy within the industry, leading to the requirement that the satellite provider offer to install any extra dish antenna hardware for free and place a notice to this effect in place of any missing channels.
If a broadcaster elects retransmission consent, there is no obligation for the cable system to carry the signal. This option allows broadcasters who own popular stations, such as CBS
or Fox to request cash or other compensation from cable or satellite providers for signals. These networks have usually attempted to gain further distribution of cable services in which they also hold an equity position rather than direct cash compensation, which cable systems have almost universally balked at paying. In some cases, these channels have been temporarily removed from distribution by systems who felt broadcasters were asking too steep a price
for their signal. Examples include the removal of all CBS-owned local stations plus MTV
from DISH Network
for two days in 2004
, and the removal of ABC-owned stations from Time Warner Cable
for a little under a day in 2000
In the U.S. retransmission consent has often been chosen over must-carry by the major commercial television networks and PBS. Under the present rules, a new agreement is negotiated every three years, and stations must choose must-carry or retransmission consent for each cable system they wish their signal to be carried on.
Republic of Ireland
, cable, MMDS
and satellite companies have Comreg
regulated "must-carry" stations. For cable companies, this covers RTÉ One
, RTÉ Two
The same rules apply to licence satellite television (Sky Digital) and digital MMDS. Analogue MMDS companies are required to carry only TV3 due to serious bandwidth limitations.