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Cable TV operators' agree to retransmit HD programs

SEOUL, Dec. 5 (Yonhap) -- Cable television operators have started to re-air high-definition terrestrial TV programs late Monday following the government's mediation efforts.

"We have decided to accept the recommendations made by the national broadcasting watchdog and started the retransmission as of 6 p.m., and agreed to engage in earnest dialogue to resolve outstanding differences in the coming week," cable operators said in a joint statement.

This view was echoed by the three local terrestrial channels -- KBS2, MBC and SBS -- which pledged to do their utmost to reach a deal by Dec. 11.

The temporary ceasefire was reached after the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) decided during a meeting held earlier in the day to punish both sides of the dispute, holding them responsible for infringing upon cable TV watchers' rights.

On Nov. 28, the nation's cable TV operators stopped the retransmission of HD programs from the country's terrestrial channels after negotiations over the retransmission fees broke down. The move forced the country's approximately 7.7 million digital cable TV subscribers to watch programs from the terrestrial channels through lower-quality standard definition broadcasts.

Cable and the terrestrial television companies have agreed on the amount of monthly fees the former should pay to the latter for using programs but still differ over which subscribers to charge.

In the recent round of negotiations, cable operators agreed to pay 100 won (US$0.0885) per subscriber in monthly fees to the networks, although failing to narrow differences over whether to charge the fees for all subscribers or only new subscribers.

The two sides also differ over how much the terrestrial stations should pay to the cable operators as a reward for their contribution to increasing viewers by relaying programs even to fringe areas. Cable TV networks are demanding the terrestrial networks share about 18 to 20 percent of revenues they earn from commercials, but terrestrial TVs say the rate is too high.

Adding to the row, five cable TV networks filed a lawsuit against SBS, one of the three terrestrial broadcasters, on Wednesday, demanding that about 1 billion won in revenue from commercials be returned as "unjust profits."

The plaintiffs argue they deserve the money since SBS has unjustly benefited from their 10-year-long contribution to practically removing previously blind areas in the country.

Industry watchers said there seemed to be a breakthrough in the dispute last Friday when the government watchdog announced that representatives of both sides agreed to resume retransmitting HD programs.

But KBS, MBC and SBS released a joint statement denying the announcement. They claimed that the announcement by the broadcasting committee is a unilateral one, which is far from the truth.

Despite the latest breakthrough to resolve the long standing feud, the two sides have yet to decide who will take part in the new round of negotiations and whether or not to permit the KCC to sit in on the talks.

"If nothing is decided by the deadline, the watchdog will take punitive actions that include fines and other disadvantages related to broadcasting rights," said a government regulator, adding that there seems to be a will on both sides to reach a settlement despite some stumbling blocks.

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