RETRANS HEATS UP ON HILL

NAB REP BLASTS CABLE’S ANTI-RETRANS STUDY

Roanoke broadcaster Bob Lee tells Congressional panel that ACA-commissioned report criticizing retransmission consent is "riddled with flaws."

Testifying on behalf of the National Association of Broadcasters, WDBJ Roanoke GM Bob Lee said a cable-backed report that argued that retransmission consent was hurting consumers is “riddled with flaws” and contradicts itself.

“On page one, the study noted how valuable and essential broadcast signals are to cable companies,” Lee said. “The rest of the study is then spent arguing that broadcasters should be paying for carriage….ACA wants it both ways.”

ACA is the Pittsburgh-based American Cable Association, a trade group representing small and independent cable operators. In anticipation of  today’s hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, the ACA released a study it commissioned that claims that retransmission consent has resulted in high cable bills, less viewer choice and delays in advanced cable services.

Rather than receiving retransmission consent payments from cable operators, the study says, broadcasers should be paying operators for retransmitting their signals—$4.16 per channel per subscriber per month, by the study’s calculations.

Under provisions of the 1992 Cable Act, cable operators must get the permission of broadcasters before retransmitting their signals. In exchange for the so-called retransmission consent, broadcasters may negotiate for cash payments or other forms of compensation.

Few broadcasters have managed to win cash in the negotiations. However, some of the larger TV stations groups have used their retrans leverage to get carriage for commonly owned national and regional cable networks. As Lee pointed out at the hearing, Allbritton used the retrans  rights of its WJLA Washington to get increase cable carriage of its regional news service, News Channel 8.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

ABA attack on retrans comes as more TV groups are apparently willing to take a hard line in negotiations and insist on cash payments. ACA President Matthew Polka wants Congress to water down broadcasters’ retrans rights. In releasing the study yesterday, he said the findings “should encourage a massive re-thinking of current retransmission consent laws and regulations.”

In his testimony, Lee cited recent FCC findings that retransmission consent put broadcasters and cable operators on “a level playing field.” In light of such findings, he said, “complaints from my cable friends ring hollow.”


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