NCTA To Jump Into Retrans Reform Fight

“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.

In a break for the pay TV companies lobbying for retransmission consent reform, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association late Thursday announced that it is planning to put more of its weight behind the campaign.

“In particular, 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, in a statement.

Powell, a former FCC chairman, provided no details about the new reforms the NCTA intends to promote. But NCTA has previously urged the FCC to crack down on the ability of broadcasters to use sharing agreements to negotiate retransmission consent agreements for multiple stations in a market.

One cable TV industry insider said the additional reforms under NCTA consideration are more in the form of “surgical changes than a wholesale restructuring of the rules.”

Powell’s surprise announcement came in response to the Dec. 12 introduction of two bills in the House of Representatives — one by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the other by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) — that would reform or eliminate the retransmission consent rules that cleared the way for TV stations to charge cable and satellite TV operators for retransmitting their programs.

Major pay TV companies — led by Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and Dish Network — have been lobbying vigorously for retrans reform for the past several years in the face of stalwart opposition from broadcasters.


But NCTA has largely been forced to sit out the lobbying battle because, along with representing cable operators, it also represents major programmers with significant broadcast interests—including The Walt Disney Co., Fox and CBS. In addition, Comcast, NCTA’s largest member, owns NBC Universal and has a conflict over the retransmission consent regulations.

NCTA’s announcement was welcomed by pay TV industry lobbyists who have already been lobbying for reform.

“We welcome any and all allies willing to fight for consumers against the broken retransmission consent system,” said Brian Frederick, a spokesman for the American Television Alliance, a group created by Time Warner Cable in 2010 to lobby for retransmission consent reforms.

Added Matt Polka, president-CEO of the American Cable Association, an ATVA member: “NCTA’s statement is an encouraging sign that the coalition in support of change is growing only bigger and stronger.”

Representatives of the National Association of Broadcasters, Disney, CBS and Comcast declined comment. Representatives of CBS and Fox could not immediately be reached for comment.

One industry source, however, said the NCTA decision “is surprising given that many cable programmers receive a significant revenue stream from retransmission consent.”

Comments (5)

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Don Thompson says:

December 13, 2013 at 6:47 pm

This is a huge development, a really fantastic opportunity for cable operators big and small to have a big impact on public policy related to the creation of new video rules that treat customers fairly. Gosh, I sound like Brian Roberts 🙂

Rep. Eshoo should be applauded for introducing badly needed legislation designed to reform the broken retransmission consent laws. These outdated carriage regulations, adopted before we knew about satellite TV, YouTube and Netflix, need to be reformed as soon as possible, and Rep. Eshoo’s bill is a major step in the right direction. Consumers will appreciate the effort.

TV station owners are staging reckless signal blackouts across the country. Rep. Eshoo is right that the FCC needs the authority to protect consumers from such irresponsible behavior. Rep. Eshoo is also right to give consumers the ability not to buy the channel package that includes TV stations that demand compensation from pay-TV distributors.

Such a “retransmission consent” tier would be a significant improvement because it would mean cable subscribers do not need to buy all local TV signals (with their expensive NFL and other sports content) in order to gain access to other video channels their cable operator offers.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren is an original co-sponsor of Rep. Eshoo’s bill. With NCTA now in the fight, I’m sure more help in on the way.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    December 15, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Considering Sam Zell had nothing to do with Tribune in April 2012 shows you are clueless. Thus there is no reason to consider reading any more of your War and Peace Novels of random thoughts which you proved once again to change within a short period of time.

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