ACA Blasts Raycom-Belo Tucson SSA

The cable trade association says consumers typically pay higher retransmission consent fees while receiving diminished local news services under such deals.

The American Cable Association is criticizing the recently announced new shared services agreement in Tucson, Ariz., that will allow Raycom Media to control the operations of three local stations, including top-rated CBS and Fox stations, even though FCC rules generally prohibit formal crossownership among the four highest-rated stations in a market.

“With breathtaking disdain for the public interest, Raycom is seizing effective control of Tucson’s CBS and Fox affiliates just as the FCC is about to release a notice of proposed rulemaking asking to what extent such deals violate the ban on consolidation among the top four local stations,” ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said today in a statement.

“As we’ve seen elsewhere,” Polka continued, “SSAs are strong indicators of bad news to come, including higher retransmission consent fees; higher advertising rates; less competition, localism and diversity; and job loss among news reporters and production employees.”

ACA cited a published report this week that said that under the Raycom-Belo SSA, all workers except sales staff will lose their jobs at Belo’s Fox station KMSB, while Raycom’s CBS affiliate KOLD will provide news to KMSB viewers going forward.  Raycom expects to complete the transition within the next 120 days, with reports saying the SSA could threaten up to 20 news jobs in front of and behind the camera. (Click here to see video of KMSB anchor describing planned job cuts.) According to The Nielsen Co., Tucson is the 70th largest TV market with 442,000 TV households.

On Monday, ACA joined a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski showing how local television stations that cannot lawfully merge under agency rules are nonetheless consolidating their core operations, staff and news production. The letter — co-signed by Free Press, Dish Network, Time Warner Cable and two newspaper and broadcast employee unions — noted that two stations affiliated with the Big Four networks that negotiate together have the market power to increase their pay TV carriage fees by  21.6%, compared to situations where Big Four stations negotiate carriage separately.

“To protect consumers, the FCC should conclude that separately owned stations in the same market that coordinate their retransmission consent negotiations are not bargaining in good faith as required by law, and are violating the existing broadcast ownership limits,” Polka said.” ACA has documented that coordinated bargaining is a prevalent practice and that at least 36 pairs of separately owned Big 4 affiliated stations in 33 different markets have engaged in coordinated negotiations through use of a single bargaining representative.”

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Michael Katz says:

November 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm

I don’t ever remember the cable companies being concerned about “the public interest”, or “job loss among news reporters and production employees.” when I was running local news operations.

Geoffrey Miller says:

November 17, 2011 at 3:23 pm

It is nice to see cable companies so concerned about the viewers. Maybe if they could extend that concern to letting cable subscribers pick their channels ala carte it might ring a little more true.

    Becky Kueck says:

    November 18, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    as a cable system owner I can say I would love to be able to give customer more choice and flexibility on programming and cost. unfortunately most network agreements is an all or none proposition. in other words put us on basic and pay for everyone or you can’t carry us at all. Seems like the FTC should be invovled in that approach


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