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FCC Allows Cable Program Access Rules To Expire, ACA Responds

By | Friday October 5, 2012 @ 3:03pm PDT

Cable companies are no longer required to sell the cable channels they own to competitors, such as satellite broadcasters, following a decision today by the Federal Communications Commission that allowed program access rules to expire. Until now, cable companies have been required to sell the must-have channels to competitors on reasonable terms. Now, competitors will have to file individual complaints if they feel a cable operator is unfairly denying access. DirecTV, Dish Network, AT&T and Verizon Communications are among those who had urged the FCC to extend the rule, the Wall Street Journal reports. Google agreed, arguing that large cable companies have an incentive to block access to regional sports channels to stifle competition. Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other large cable operators disagreed, saying the rules had become obsolete now that the pay-TV market had become more competitive. American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew M. Polka issued the following statement in response to the decision.
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FCC Tries To Control The Volume On Obnoxiously Loud TV Ads

Broadcasters and Pay TV distributors will have to make sure that ads have the same average volume as the shows they accompany according to the rules the FCC adopted today. It will take a year before the regulations that implement a congressional mandate — the 2010 Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (also known as the CALM Act) – take effect. When they do, consumers shouldn’t have to lunge for the remote control to avoid volume spikes for sales pitches. While the order sounds straightforward, the industry had big concerns: Cable and satellite companies warned the FCC that they might not be able to monitor all of the channels they carry. To deal with that, the FCC says the distributors are off the hook if they can get channels to certify that their ads comply with the rules. Large pay TV providers will be subject to spot checks every two years; regulators will investigate smaller operators if there’s a pattern of complaints. In addition, pay TV and broadcast companies urged commissioners to Read More »

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FCC Chief Wants To Ease TV Station Cross Ownership With Radio And Newspapers

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is prepared to junk federal rules that limit companies from owning TV and radio stations in the same market — and go half way in doing the same for TV stations and newspapers. He’s circulating a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would wipe out the TV-newspaper restriction in the 20 largest markets, trade magazine Broadcasting and Cable reports citing “a person familiar with the document.” But it would keep a test that could block a combo in smaller markets if it would result in  less local news, less diversity of voices, or too much concentration of economic power. Genachowski’s proposal sounds a lot like the standard that former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican, pushed through in 2008. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned those rules this past July, saying that Martin hadn’t given the public enough time to weigh in on them. Public interest advocates who want to preserve cross-ownership restrictions applauded the court decision. Newspaper and broadcast owners say that mergers are needed to preserve local newsrooms as their companies compete against a massive number of national news competitors on cable TV and the Internet. As part of the rulemaking process, the FCC will ask whether stations skirt the ownership limits Read More »

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Should The FCC Crack Down On TV Stations That Cooperate On News, Ad Sales, And Retransmission Deals?

We’re starting to see some interesting filings at the FCC as it prepares to revamp media ownership rules — and that includes a letter sent today by a strange-bedfellows coalition of Dish Network; Time Warner Cable; activist group Free Press; the Newspaper Guild; and the American Cable Association which represents small and mid-sized operators. They’re united by a concern about TV stations that “cannot lawfully merge under the FCC’s local television rules (but) are nonetheless consolidating their core operations, staff and news production.” The group says that in cities including Denver, Peoria, and Syracuse, “TV stations have consolidated their newsrooms and newsgathering by merging their facilities and laying off dozens of journalists, crew members and other staff. The resulting news product is essentially a re-run of stories produced by another station, which reduces content diversity in terms of viewpoints, substance and issue coverage.” The writers also complain about cases where TV stations cooperatively sell ads — and negotiate retransmission consent agreements. That troubles pay TV providers and “it is a prevalent practice with at least 36 pairs of separately-owned Big 4 affiliated stations in 33 different markets, actually engaging in coordinated negotiations through use of a single (retransmission consent) bargaining representative.” The group wants the FCC to “take account of how the reduction in local broadcast competition harms local communities and markets, and to ensure that the neither the substance nor the goals of the media ownership rules are thwarted.”

The National Association of Broadcasters issued a quick response: “Evidence shows that when a strong local TV station shares resources with another broadcaster, the result is the creation of more local news, weather and sports,” spokesman Dennis Wharton says. Read More »

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Pay TV Companies Say ESPN Fumbled With Its $15B NFL Deal

ESPN is already starting to face a major backlash from pay TV providers and some Wall Street analysts to yesterday’s $15B deal extending its rights to Monday Night Football for eight years to 2021. The agreement – which is at least 60% higher than the previous deal — “will push the cost of pay-TV service into the stratosphere, making the product less and less affordable during a time of severe economic stress and high unemployment,” says Matthew Polka, CEO of the American Cable Association, a trade group for small and mid-sized operators. His main complaint is that ESPN requires distributors to offer the channel in the most popular expanded basic package which means “consumers with no interest in sports are required to subsidize the sports fan.” ESPN and ESPN2 represent about 20% of a typical pay TV provider’s wholesale programming costs even though the channels just appeal to 2.5% of the viewers, Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett says in a new report. If you throw in other services, including regional channels, then about $12.15 — more than half of the average monthly wholesale programming payments — go for sports. Moffett figures that pay TV subscribers would have to pay an additional 67 cents a month just to cover ESPN’s additional new football costs. The price would rise to 78 cents if Dish Network drops the Disney-owned sports channel, something that the satellite company’s chairman Charlie Ergen has threatened to do. … Read More »

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