The BBC claims CableVision’s decision to pull its channels will mean it can’t offer its customers syndicated content from networks CBS and ABC. But shows will be available through a new digital feed when the broadcaster switches from its outdated analogue set-up later this year.
The BBC claims CableVision’s decision to pull its channels will mean it can’t offer its customers syndicated content from networks CBS and ABC. But shows will be available through a new digital feed when the broadcaster switches from its outdated analogue set-up later this year.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 5: The BBC is preparing to make its TV channels available for free in digital format.

The broadcaster says it does not need CableVision to carry its content as it plans to make the long-awaited switch from analogue to digital before the end of the year.

BBC boss Rick Richardson made the pledge in the wake of CableVision’s threat to pull ZFB and ZBM from its basic package amid a price row between the two -companies. The move would mean that ‘marquee coverage’ like World Cup soccer, NFL and dramas like CSI could soon be available in high definition. Mr Richardson also warned CableVision that if it follows through on its threat to drop the two channels it will not be able to get the same content elsewhere because of BBC’s exclusive rights agreements.

He said CableVision had signed a deal to pay for the BBC’s channels from 2008.

He claims the company has been charging viewers for the channels, but has not passed on any of its takings to the broadcaster.

BBC plans to go to arbitration to recoup the money it claims it is owed as a result of the deal — roughly $2.2million based on a $3-a-month valuation of the two channels for CableVision’s estimated 22,000 subscribers. Mr Richardson said:

• CableVision signed an ’08 agreement to pay the BBC $1.50-a-month, per subscriber for each of its channels;

• A plan was agreed to introduce a new $27-a-month basic tier without ZBM and ZFB to allow viewers an ‘opt out’ option if they didn’t want to receive the two channels

• CableVision — due to a dispute with the Telecommunications Commission — has yet to honour that agreement.

The Telecommunications Amendment Act 2008 allows for the deal between the two companies to be renegotiated every three years. The BBC is calling on CableVision to ‘live the agreement’ it signed in 2008 now and introduce the two tier system which it says would give customers the choice of whether to pay for the two channels or not.

Mr Richardson said: “Our channels have value. They acknowledged that when they signed the retransmission agreement in 2008. They are charging for BBC content and they have not paid us a dime.”

The Telecommunications Commission initially blocked CableVision’s attempt to set up a separate tier. But the company successfully contested the decision and in a ruling in September last year Judge Ian Kawaley ruked that the Commission had abused its powers in blocking the deal.

“Why aren’t they living that agreement right now?” Mr Richardson asked.“For three years they have continued to charge the customer for our channels. Why did they not say ‘we can’t live with this agreement because of the Government’s decision’. We won’t charge for the BBC’s channels until this is sorted out.” He said the bottom line was that the two companies had agreed on the value of the channels and CableVision had charged the public for them. He argued that Cablevision rakes in around $7million-a-year from selling its basic $30-a-month package.

And he said the content the BBC brings to that package, both through its local news shows and its international exclusivity rights to shows like Oprah and 60 Minutes, made it a big part of the deal.

“At times, for example during the World Cup, we are the biggest draw on that basic package.”

He said it was unfair of CableVision to sell that content and not pay for it.

He accepted the company would be within its rights to drop the two channels but questioned how they could justify charging $30-a-month without the BBC’s content. And he said customers would not lose out if CableVision did follow through on its threat.

“Our channels are going to be put into a digital domain by the end of the year. We don’t need Cablevision. There will be a roll-out in November. It is past time for us to make the switch. The US did it in 09. It’s the modern alternative to analogue.”

ZBM is currently unavailable via television aerial anyway because lighting damaged a telecommunications tower in December. It will be back ‘free to air’ in the digital format when the roll-out takes place.

Many countries have already switched to digital. Viewers buy a new digibox for a nominal fee to access free channels. Some modern TVs are equipped to receive the digital signal without requiring an additional box. In some countries, including the US, governments have provided funding to smooth the transition.

Mr Richardson said the exact details of the switchover had yet to be agreed between BBC and the Telecommunications Commission. But he insisted viewers would have plenty of options to get the BBC’s coverage — with or without Cablevision.

“Viewers need not worry as we will have our channels in the clear on a new format.” But he added he still wanted Cablevision to be involved and to honour the ‘08 agreement. And he confirmed the company was preparing to go to arbitration to seek payment from CableVision for broadcasting its channels for the past three years.

CableVision released its own statement on Tuesday and declined to comment further.