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BBC undeterred by CableVision move

Bermuda Broadcasting chief executive Rick Richardson has said ZBM and ZFB will be broadcasting in digital by the year’s end, regardless of whether a deal is reached to keep the stations on CableVision’s line-up.

The companies remain locked in a bitter dispute over retransmission fees, with CableVision poised to drop the channels altogether in the fall. Faced with the prospect of losing access to CableVision’s thousands of subscribers, Mr Richardson said he was undeterred. “I’m not here pleading with CableVision to keep us on,” he said in an interview.

“We will reach the viewers as broadcasters are doing elsewhere, we will revert to digital.”

He added that his company had already taken steps towards converting its output to digital and was in the process of acquiring updated transmitters capable of broadcasting in high definition. The transition should be completed by the end of the year, he said. Although BBC stands to miss out on CableVision’s vast market penetration if a deal is not reached, the cable provider would lose something just as valuable: content.

The BBC pays thousands each year for an array of exclusivity agreements, including long-standing arrangements with the CBS and ABC networks.

None of the BBC-exclusive programming would be available to CableVision subscribers through that service without a retransmission agreement. “If the digital conversion were to go ahead, however, viewers would be required only to purchase a digital-conversion box to access channels 7 and 9 for free as before.

A settlement between the companies whose disagreement dates back now several years looked increasingly unlikely this week, as the feud seemed to reach a final impasse.

On Tuesday, CableVision officially notified customers of its decision to drop the BBC stations, saying it would “no longer be able” to carry channels 7 and 9 on its system.

“We do not believe that CableVision and its customers should have to pay for channels that can be received for free, when available, using off-air antennae,” the cable provider said in a notice published in Tuesday’s

Royal Gazette.

A clause in the Telecommunications Act requires cable companies to notify customers of any decision to drop local channels through print media and direct notice. In a press release on Monday, CableVision general manager Terry Roberson said:

“It goes without saying that this is not a pleasant decision for us to have to make; however, after much consultation and review of events that transpired in the past, we believe this is the only logical solution.”

That argument is fiercely contested by Mr Richardson, who counters that the $30 charge for CableVision’s economy tier a basic package which includes ZBM and ZFB amounts to a charge for the channels. “Terry Roberson thinks that most of our people are stupid,” he said in an interview. “CableVision has put out the lie that people on their system will now suddenly have to pay for [BBC channels]. They’ve been paying for it all along!”

The Telecommunications Commission will now meet in November to decide when CableVision can remove the channels from its line-up, providing a compromise between the companies is not reached in the interim. A spokeswoman for CableVision said last night the company had no further comment on the matter.

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Published August 06, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 06, 2011 at 8:12 am)

BBC undeterred by CableVision move

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