Robert Johnson is trying to get back into the cable broadcasting business. The BET founder filed a petition with the FCC in hopes of compelling cable and satellite operators to carry his new Urban Television network.
Johnson’s RLJ Companies recently partnered ION Networks to launch Urban Television LLC. The new network would take over one of ION’s digital channels and be seen in 42 markets.
But Johnson has run into roadblocks from the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) which views Johnson’s attempts to force cable and satellite operator to carry Urban TV as unconstitutional. The group’s spokesman Brian Dietz said in a statement, “This appears to be a request for multicast must-carry rights in all but name only. The full Commission has repeatedly rejected multicast must carry because it is unconstitutional and unnecessary. Broadcasters with compelling content can, and do, obtain carriage for multicast programming but mandating carriage of those signals should again be rejected.”
Speaking to multichannel.com Harold Feld, senior vice president of the consumer activist group Media Access Project, said Johnson’s chances of successful petitioning the FCC hinges of who will be running the agency when the Obama administration takes over in January, “I think a lot depends on who the commissioners are. Certainly the environment will be generally more receptive to these types of arguments, but that is no guarantee that the argument will prevail.”
Bob Johnson launched Black Entertainment Television (BET) in January of 1980. In 1999 he sold the network to Viacom for $3 billion.