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Policy

Cablevision Makes Case for Retrans Reform

5/31/2011 8:01 AM Eastern

Washington — In comments on the Federal Communications
Commission’s review of the retransmission-consent
regime, Cablevision Systems has laid out its keys to
reform.

The cable provider, which has been involved in several
high-profile retransmission-consent standoffs with programmers,
restated its arguments on three principles:

• Prevent the tying of TV station carriage with co-owned
cable nets. It argues that the practice has raised consumer
prices by bundling must-have programming with “limited
interest” offerings.

• Require broadcasters to publicize their price for TV
station carriage.

• Prevent “discrimination” in price based on the size of
an operator or satellite provider.

It also wants the commission to prevent stations not
jointly owned from jointly negotiating retrains; to eliminate
the syndicated exclusivity and network non-duplication
rules — the FCC proposed eliminating those rules
in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking; and not to increase
viewer notification requirements, which it says would “encourage
broadcaster brinkmanship, confuse consumers,
cause MVPDs to be more vulnerable to unreasonable retransmission
consent demands, and so result in higher
rates for MVPD subscribers.”

Cablevision is a member of the American Television Alliance,
whose petition helped prompt the FCC to propose
tweaking its retrans rules, including clarifying what qualifies as “good faith” retrans negotiations.

Also driving the FCC review were legislators concerned
about high-profile signal blackouts last year that threatened
big ticket sports broadcasts like college bowl games
and Major League Baseball’s World Series.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has said the FCC is
not interested in getting in the middle of private negotiations,
and that the FCC’s authority over retrans is limited.
But Cablevision argues that its proposals are “plainly within
the FCC’s statutory authority.”

Separately, the National Association of Broadcasters
warns the FCC against micromanaging retransmission
consent negotiations and ticks off the things it thinks
would be doing just that.

In its comments in the FCC’s retrans rule review — due
May 27 at the commission — the NAB said “substantial
and numerous changes,” which have been sought by cable
and satellite operators, are unwarranted.

The NAB supports expanding notification of potential
signal drops to non-cablevideo distributors and making
sure that early termination fees are not an obstacle to
switching service in the “very rare” instances in which impasses
affect their access to TV programming.

But aside from that, NAB says, essentially, retrans ain’t
broke and doesn’t need fixing. Its list of unnecessary and
harmful changes include: 1) prohibitions on joint negotiations;
2) government-mandated mediation; 3) defi ne good
faith bargaining in terms of fees, terms or conditions of
deals; 4) scrapping the syndicated exclusivity and network
non duplication rules; and 5) adding violations of good faith
bargaining to the factors considered at license renewal time.

The FCC has proposed getting more specific on the definition
of good faith bargaining and has proposed scrapping
those two rules. Various cable operators argue that
the FCC needs to step in to break up joint bargaining, untie
retrans deals from co-owned cable channels, require
stations to make their prices public and more.

September