TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Cable TV Advertising (was 'Transitional Fair Use')

Cable TV Advertising (was 'Transitional Fair Use')

Neal McLain (
Wed, 22 Dec 2004 00:48:15 -0600

Barry Margolin <> wrote:

> I don't know what people were saying about cable TV in
> the 40's and 50's. I'm talking about what happened in
> the 70's when cable-only channels like HBO first started
> to appear. I believe that prior to that, cable TV was
> just a way of providing TV service to communities
> that had environmental difficulties receiving broadcast
> TV (e.g. mountainous terrain blocking the signals).

CATV systems were operating in small-market cities well before 1970,
including communities that already supported local broadcast stations.
Many of these CATV systems produced extensive schedules of local
non-broadcast programming ("origination cablecasting" in FCC-speak),
and much of it included commercial advertising.

As an example, my former employer, Complete Channel TV in Madison
Wisconsin, co-existed in a market with four broadcast stations (ABC,
CBS, NBC, PBS). We operated a full-color studio for several years
before the first satellite-delivered non-broadcast programming
appeared. We used this studio for three types of programming:
commercially-sponsored; non-commercial public affairs; and public

> Since you had to pay extra for these "premium" channels,
> there was an expectation that this would obviate the need
> for commercials.

The CATV industry uses the term "premium" to refer to programming
channels funded by subscriber fees *over and above* the charge for
basic (or extended basic) service. By this definition, premium
channels are, and always have been, commercial free: HBO, Showtime,
The Movie Channel, and Cinemax.

The CATV industry (and the FCC) use the term "cable programming service"
(CPS) to identify channels that:

- Are usually carried on the basic or extended basic tier
(e.g. CNN, ESPN, Discovery, Family Channel), and

- Are not broadcast stations, premium channels, or
access channels.

The entrepreneurs who funded CPS channels certainly didn't expect that
these channels would be commercial-free. With a few exceptions, every
CPS channel carried by satellite after 1975 was launched as a
commercial venture and carried advertising from day one.

There are, of course, exceptions. In a previous post on this subject,
I included a list of non-commercial CPS channels:

These exceptions aside, CPS channels are, and always have been,
commercial ventures. I don't see how anyone who was familiar with the
CATV industry could have expected that the basic service charge "would
obviate the need for commercials."


The FCC definitions of "basic service" and "CPS" are at 47 CFR 76.901:

An extensive history of the CATV industry, including information about
programming, is at The Cable Center's "Cable History" page:

Neal McLain

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