Commisso: Next FCC Chief Must Cap Retrans

Mediacom CEO Rocco Commisso wants a commitment from whoever gets the nod for FCC chairman to act to curb the rising programming fees that cable and satellite pay broadcasters and cable networks.

Mediacom CEO Rocco Commisso is proposing a new litmus test for FCC chairmen or chairwomen.

In a open letter to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the outspoken cable operator says the senator should seek a commitment from the president’s nominee to succeed outgoing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski that he or she will take action to curb the rising programming fees that cable and satellite pay broadcasters and cable networks.

The leading candidates to replace Genachowski are former cable and wireless lobbyist Tom Wheeler and former Rockefeller aide and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

A “perverse” consequence of current policy is that competition among cable and satellite operators is causing consumer prices to increase, Commisso says.

“This is because the owners of must-have programming are immune from competition while cable, satellite and phone companies vigorously compete with each other. This allows programmers to play distributors against each other, driving up programming costs and, ultimately, consumer prices. Like my blood pressure whenever I negotiate with the programmers, prices distributors pay for programming only go in one direction: Up.”

To hold down retail prices, Commisso says he has twice proposed a freeze. Medicom would freeze retail prices if the programmers would freeze their wholesale prices.


“Unfortunately, instead of taking even this informal action to protect American consumers from the effects of unchecked increases in sports programming fees, extortionate demands for retransmission consent payments, and coercive wholesale bundling tactics, the commission has elected to do nothing. In the absence of pressure from the commission, not a single programmer took me up on my price freeze offers.”

Genachowski and his predecessor, Kevin Martin, refused to act on the ground that they lacked authority to regulate wholesale prices, he says. Yet, the “best legal minds” of the cable industry maintain that they do.

“The American public needs and deserves a Federal Communications Commission that is dedicated to protecting video service subscribers against the programmers’ anti-consumer practices.”

Comments (9)

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Robert Crookham says:

April 18, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Dear Rocco:

Drop dead.

You want the free market to work–as long as you have freedom to charge whatever extortionate price you can get from the customers. But you don’t want the free market to allow your suppliers to charge what their products are worth. Life ain’t like that, pal. You can’t have it both ways. If the Commission should start regulating the prices of program suppliers, it should also get into the business of regulating cable operator’s charges.

Tanya Pavluchuk says:

April 18, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Hey, lets also have the FCC put a cap on the price of gas.

Kimberly Gari-Luff says:

April 18, 2013 at 6:20 pm

With the wide availability of alternative video, broadcasters are less and less able to charge advertisers enough to stay happy. The alternative? We’re living it.

I did a quick-and-dirty comparison of seasonal audience sizes using the ratings in the Complete Directory of Prime Time TV, Ninth Edition (Brooks & Marsh). As late as 1980, ALL the top-30 shows had ratings over 20. After 1998, NONE of the top-30 shows had ratings over 20.

Hulu and Vudu and Foo-foo just make it worse.

Ellen Samrock says:

April 18, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Must-have network programming is not “immune from competition”. They’re competing against themselves all the time for eyeballs and advertisers. To do that they have to have quality programming (scripted shows, not reality shows) but quality programming costs money–lots of it and the costs are only going up. If the MVPDs can’t pony up the fees then I suggest they get out of the TV content delivery business and simply focus on their broadband and phone businesses. As it is the re-compressed HD streams from cable and similar TV providers look like garbage. I suggest that cable and the telcos should continue to do what they do best, providing high-speed internet and phone service.

Manuel Morales says:

April 18, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Once retransmission consent is elected Rocco’s company has the option to refuse the terms put before him and not carry the station electing retransmission consent. Sounds fair to me. Rocco is another small time, cracker jack cable blowhard like Matt Polka who love regulation when it benefits them yet cry for dereg at every turn. Both love nothing more than the sound of their own voices.

Joe Jaime says:

April 18, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Simple…let cable try to get $100+ a month without the networks.. talk about disconnect!!

solange attwood says:

April 19, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Before you get your shorts in a knot over Rocco’s comments consider that if cable gets out of the video business due to cost pressures the TV stations aren’t going to get paid ANY retrans fees. I think a more favorbale outcome would be for broadcasters and cable operators to arrive at a long-term pricing proposal that allows each to have financial stability needed to develop their respective businesses without bankrupting the other. Did you know that 25% of all ad dollars are now spent on the Internet? That’s the real challenge to broadcasters, not a lessening of retrans fees. Those of us on any side of the TV business need to work together to preserve the :30 commercial ecosystem.

Suzi Schrappen says:

April 22, 2013 at 9:44 am

Are you kidding me. If we are going to cap what people pay for their entertainment because “The American public needs and deserves a Federal Communications Commission that is dedicated to protecting video service subscribers against the programmers’ anti-consumer practices.” How about you do something that would really help like cap the price of fuel, cap the price of medical cost, cap the price of food….do you think they really even listen to what is being said or just talking to hear their own voice….

Mike Anderson says:

April 22, 2013 at 10:29 am

Hey Rocco, why don’t you let your customers buy only the channels they want instead of bundling all sorts of stuff and forcing customers to pay for product they don’t watch? Then, if they buy a certain channel, you pay the owner of that channel. AND the owner of the channel gets paid by how many of your customers in total order the channel. Sounds fair and straight up, right? Oh, then you surely won’t go for it. Give the customers a choice? Never!! Pay a fair, MARKET BASED PRICE for content you don’t own? Never!! Pass that content , that you don’t own on to your customers and charge them for it? Of course!! Get real Rocco!!!