There's only so much cable TV space and the Discovery Channel doesn't think it's fair that non-cable players like broadcasters should get first choice at some of it. The basic programmer has filed a friend of the court brief in the Cablevision-FCC must-carry case playing out before the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that must-carry makes Discovery and other cable programmers "second class speakers" behind broadcasters who "no longer need the extraordinary preference embodied in must-carry."
The dirty little secret though, is that thanks to the digital transition, broadcasters may need that preference more than ever. While digital let broadcasters multiplex more channels with a clearer over-the-air signal, it lost big chunks of audience who could get little more than a snowy picture with VHF and nothing with digital.
Without ever really admitting it, many broadcasters became relieved just to reach the local cable or satellite headend. This new paradigm hasn't escaped the attention of the ever money-hungry federal government which is again looking at the broadcasters' "free" spectrum as something it can sell--as long as broadcasters have access to another way to get their programming before the public.
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