The American Cable Association lashed out at FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s announcement that his agency will not change rules governing broadcast retransmission licensing negotiations. “ACA is shocked and appalled that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who has placed such urgency in reducing consumer confusion in the marketplace, has decided to leave unchanged the retransmission consent regime,” said ACA President and CEO Matthew Polka, in a statement.
We now know what the per-subscriber fee for cable systems lacking retransmission agreements with local broadcast stations is, and it isn’t “free.” FCC rules requires cable systems to have a written retransmission agreement in place before retransmitting the signal of a station that elected retransmission consent status. On Tuesday, the FCC upped the ante, proposing a fine of $2.25 million for TV Max Inc. and related parties for retransmitting six local TV stations to 245 multiple dwelling unit buildings in Houston without a retransmission agreement.
The FCC has fined a small cable operator $30,000 for continuing to offer the Fox and NBC affiliates in the Baton Rouge, La., market in violation of retransmission consent rules. Bailey Cable TV kept the stations on air without a carriage deal for over a month.
While cable operators certainly may not like paying retransmission fees for broadcast programming, a pair of FCC decisions make clear that the price of not having a retransmission agreement in place can be far higher.
Charles Segars, CEO of arts channel Ovation, says that the rules on retransmission consent are nearing 20 years of age and that the massive changes in the media world have rendered them obsolete. In particular, he says bundling is squeezing both MVPD channel space and cash from independent programmers.
The cable trade group says that since the FCC lacks the authority to impose outage requirements on broadband providers, the commission should “endorse the establishment of an industry working group” to create voluntary rules.
The commission approves the purchase of the Topeka ABC affiliate by PBC Broadcasting from Free State Communications despite an objection by the American Cable Association that the deal would likely create a triopoly with expected KTKA operator New Vision, which owns NBC affiliate KSNT and low-power Fox affil.
The cable trade group’s comments on the FCC’s retransmission consent rulemaking urges reform, claiming broadcasters are harming consumers with “pervasive collusion.”
The FCC’s recent Notice of Proposed Rule Making exploring possible changes to the television retransmission consent rules has now been published in the Federal Register setting the date for comments as May 27, with reply comments due by June 27.
The commission is preparing to revisit the rules that govern the retransmission of local television stations by cable and satellite companies. The industry will be looking for the first signs of a reform plan when the FCC releases its February meeting agenda on Tuesday.