“We welcome an examination of a retransmission consent regime that is increasingly fractured and in need of some repair,” said Michael Powell, NCTA’s president-CEO, but didn’t offer any specifics about the new reforms the cable trade group intends to promote.
The FCC commissioner tells the American Cable Association’s Summit in Washington that he understood programming blackouts that sometimes accompany retrans negotiations “aggravate consumers. We don’t have the ability to dictate the outcome or to some extent the process of retransmission consent negotiations.” The group has meetings on the Hill and at the FCC on tap for Thursday.
The fun thing about an oversight hearing on the FCC is that there is always something for every constituent’s pet issue, even if it’s only for three minutes. Tuesday’s Senate Commerce committee hearing was no exception, dredging up the problem of blackouts caused when cable systems and TV stations can’t agree on carriage fees. Soon after the hearing concluded late Tuesday, advocates for retrans consent reform shoved a press release out the door applauding an exchange between Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who wanted something done about blackouts, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
A strange-bedfellows coalition of Dish Network; Time Warner Cable; activist group Free Press; the Newspaper Guild; and the American Cable Association which represents small and mid-sized operators have sent a letter to the FCC. They’re united by a concern about TV stations that “cannot lawfully merge under the FCC’s local television rules (but) are nonetheless consolidating their core operations, staff and news production.”
While the FCC’s desire to get back TV spectrum from stations is grabbing a lot of attention, there’s another issue that shouldn’t fall under the industry’s radar. The attempt by cable and satellite operators to get the commission to change the retransmission consent rules to decrease the broadcasters’ leverage. This second revenue stream is vital and is growing more important each year. This is a dangerous proceeding. If broadcasters don’t pay enough attention, all their spread sheets showing steadily rising retrans revenue over the next decade could suddenly become moot.
Cable just can’t have it both ways. Having opposed the FCC’s so-called standstill provision that bars cable operators from dropping independent cable networks while their carriage complaints are pending at the commission, it can’t continue to push for a standstill in retrans consent disputes with broadcasters.
The FCC should require broadcasters and television providers to maintain programming regardless of the status of retransmission negotiations, according to a coalition of minority advocacy groups.
Looking to combat runaway retrans costs — and sometimes testy negotiations that lead to TV program blackouts — cable operator Cablevision Systems Corp. filed a proposal with the FCC for some reforms.
The National Association of Broadcasters warns the FCC against micromanaging retransmission consent negotiations and ticks off the things it thinks would be doing just that. In its comments in the FCC’s retrans rule review — due May 27 at the commission — NAB says that “substantial and numerous changes,” which have been sought by cable and satellite operators, are unwarranted.
The commission will look at eliminating the network non-duplication and syndicated exclusivity and improving notice to consumers in advance of possible service disruption among other things.
With the FCC expected to discuss retransmission consent reform at its scheduled March 3 open meeting, DirecTV Chairman-CEO Mike White told analysts Wednesday he is hopeful change will come.
Verizon FiOS TV customers now have online access to ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN Buzzer Beater as part of a broader agreement between Disney and the phone company.
As expected, the FCC put retransmission consent reform on the agenda for its March 3 open meeting but was short on the details about the item. In announcing the proceeding, the commission said it would open up a notice of proposed rulemaking “to streamline and clarify the commission’s rules.”
Look for the FCC’s much-anticipated rulemaking proposal on retransmission consent reforms to be voted on at the March 3 open meeting. That is according to sources familiar with the FCC’s agenda plans, who say to look for it on the tentative agenda list Thursday (Feb. 10) that the commission releases three weeks before the meeting.