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Television programming: Peeling layers from the onion

Last week, I mentioned that southwest Colorado trying to get television programming from Denver was like peeling an onion, meaning that for every layer we peeled off in this quest, there’s always another one to go.

The saga continues, but progress is being made, even if it’s not as direct a path as we’d like. In the past week, I’ve been on the phone with many of the key players and I held a second meeting at the Capitol with some of these folks.

Here’s what I’ve learned. The Nielsen Company, based in New York, is the private business that surveys the television viewing habits of households. Based on their surveys, they provide the broadcasters with the results which shape advertising decisions. The FCC adopted Nielsen’s market areas when regulating who could send their broadcast signals out to what areas, even though this created “orphan” or “island” rural counties like La Plata and Montezuma, located along state boundaries that can be swept into another state’s market area.

This is dense stuff, but it leads to how we might be able to eventually get more people access to Denver television.

I talked at length with two Nielsen executives who assured me that they are neutral players in all of this. They report only what the actual viewing habits are, not what viewers would pick if they could. They sent me the data from the past five years showing the percentage of viewers in our area for Albuquerque versus Denver television. They acknowledged that Albuquerque would be a higher percentage until more of us could and do watch Denver television.

They told me of a Nebraska county, though, that just “flipped” market areas, leaving a South Dakota broadcast area for Denver’s. When I asked how the county did that since it wouldn’t be “legal” for them to watch Denver channels, Nielsen’s said they didn’t know, but their only function in the equation is to tell broadcasters who is watching what.

On a quarterly basis, Nielsen randomly contacts a certain small number of households in Montezuma and La Plata Counties. Based on that input of viewing habits, we continue in Albuquerque’s market and are unable to move into Denver’s. However, if those contacted by Nielsen were watching Denver stations, our two counties could flip like Morrill County, Neb., did.

At the second meeting at the Capitol, we had great participation and out of the box thinking going on with Marilyn Hogan, of the Colorado Broadcasters Association, one of her board members, and Shawn Beqaj, of Bresnan Communications, the local cable company who provides Denver channels. Mr. Beqaj flew in from New York for the meeting and is Bresnan’s vice president of public affairs. His phone number is (914) 641-3324 and he welcomes your input. Ms. Hogan has received a lot of input and I promised to not list her number again, provided they keep helping us.

DISH, one of the satellite companies in our area, has also been very responsive to my calls and is brainstorming some ideas about how more people in our area can view Colorado stations instead of New Mexico’s. Satellite television has more flexible rules than cable, but greater technological challenges.

Time and technological advances may help, but in the meantime, the parties mentioned above are committed to continuing to work with me on your behalf. They understand our frustration with what has been a longstanding problem for many.

Bottom line is we need to prove to Nielsen Company through the households surveyed that we have more Denver viewers. There are five Denver channels that can be watched through the Internet and Nielsen only cares what you watch, not how you do that. We hold more power in this situation than we knew, but it’s been buried too deep in the onion to know what steps to take. It’s up to you now on how to use the knowledge.