The Tennis Channel will not be getting its day in court again, but the ball is still in play. Without explanation, the federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Wednesday denied the channel’s dual request for an en banc rehearing or a panel rehearing of a May 28 ruling on anti-competitive tactics by Comcast (read it here). Needless to say, the Tennis Channel isn’t happy. “The U.S. Circuit Court decision today effectively strips the FCC of the ability to perform the role Congress requires,” said the channel in a statement. “We are disappointed with this result and intend to pursue further review.” In the decision this spring, the court overturned the Federal Communications Commission’s July 2012 ruling that Comcast discriminated against the Tennis Channel in favor of the cable giant’s Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network. Currently on a tier with around 3 million subscribers, the specialty channel has been trying since 2010 to be placed on Comcast’s basic service and reach over 21 million subscribers. READ MORE »
When there’s an opening for a Democrat and a Republican on the FCC — as there is now — the custom is to approve both nominees together. But Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. VA) decided he’d …
The Government Accountability Office punted today in a report that attempted to assess what, if anything, FCC commissioners and other officials should do to make the video market more competitive. Although “federal laws and regulations may in some ways be outdated,” Congress’ investigative arm adds that “it is not yet clear how they should be updated to reflect 21st century technologies and market conditions.” The one semi-concrete recommendation? Reports on cable industry prices and video competition that Congress ordered the FCC to generate “may not be needed on an annual basis, especially given demand on FCC staff’s time for other monitoring and regulatory duties.” That’s a strange conclusion: The GAO notes that the average monthly cost for expanded basic pay TV was $57.46 in 2011, up 33% from 2005 even though the Consumer Price Index was up just 15%.
Listen to (and share) Episode 40 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media, With David Lieberman. Deadline’s executive editor talks with host David Bloom about Daniel Loeb‘s latest efforts to persuade Sony to partly spin off its entertainment units; whether it’s time to dump the FCC decency rules; DreamWorks Animation’s global TV play; and whither Liberty Media and Charter now that talks have cooled on a possible purchase of Time Warner Cable.
When they talk to Wall Street, broadcast moguls love to boast about their financial power and unparalleled ability to reach mass audiences. But the FCC heard a different story this week from networks as they challenged the agency’s efforts to minimize indecent programming. Companies say that the rules are too vague, that they clash with broadcasters’ First Amendment rights, and that parents can control what their kids watch. But ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC also say that rules are archaic because the networks have lost so much cultural clout. Fox says in an FCC filing, “Americans today, including children, spend more time engaged with non-broadcast channels delivered by cable and satellite television, the Internet, video games and other media than they do with broadcast media.” In a separate filing, NBCUniversal observes that ”Broadcast TV is not a uniquely pervasive presence in the lives of 21st Century Americans.” Broadcast network affiliates’ total day share of viewing “was just 28 percent in the 2010-2011 television season – compared to the 53 percent viewing share held by ad-supported cable programming networks.” CBS also notes that “the day when a child watching television was almost certain to be watching broadcast television has long since passed.”
Listen to (and share) episode 39 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media With David Lieberman. Deadline’s Executive Editor talks with host David Bloom about the brewing battle over boxes, as cable companies, consumer electronics makers and game console providers tussle for control of the relationship with consumers; Gannett’s $1.5 billion bet on local broadcasting; John McCain’s push for an FCC investigation of cable TV pricing; and what the Rupert Murdoch divorce might mean for News Corp. and Twentieth Century Fox.
The FCC might not want to take on this issue — but that hasn’t stopped the Arizona senator, and former GOP presidential candidate, from pressing it today. “The time has come for television video consumers to have the option to either purchase individual channels or the tiers of channels currently offered by cable and satellite companies,” John McCain says in a letter to Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn. “Today, this option does not exist and consumers are forced to buy channels they do not want,” he wrote. “This is wrong, and action should be taken.” Noting that consumers “want options that the current television market is not providing”, McCain asked Clyburn “to review this issue and take steps to shift this balance toward consumers, by providing consumers with greater choice when purchasing television video”. He rejects cable programmers’ claim that the pay TV bundle is a good deal for subscribers.
Cable operators who feared that the FCC might mandate a la carte TV pricing, or restrict companies’ ability to charge broadband customers based on how much they use the Internet, probably felt comforted by comments that two of the three current FCC members made today at the annual Cable Show. Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel indicated that she’s reluctant to promote a la carte — a key part of a bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain. “Consumer practices are changing,” Rosenworcel says. “The ways that they access content are different today than they were even a year ago.” As a result, if there’s pressure for change it’s “going to be driven by consumers and not necessarily by legislation or regulation.” Her Republican colleague, Ajit Pai, added that people may be wasting their breath if they talk about regulations that might affect whether broadband providers base their pricing on how much bandwidth a consumer uses. “It’s a commonly accepted aspect of the consumer experience in this country in virtually every other field — the more you consume of something the more you should pay,” he says. What’s more, “the FCC’s authority here is relatively limited.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals in DC just shot down the FCC’s ruling last year that would have required Comcast to take Tennis Channel off of an extra-fee sports tier so it could compete more equally with the cable giant’s Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network. The FCC said last year that Comcast had used its market power to discriminate against Tennis Channel. But the Appeals Court says that the FCC offered no evidence to refute Comcast’s position that it made a simple financial judgment that few subscribers wanted to watch tennis. When Comcast put the channel on a sports tier “not one customer complained about the change,” the court notes. Indeed the justices say that the FCC had no evidence to demonstrate that broader distribution of Tennis Channel “offered Comcast any commercial benefit.” Comcast says that Tennis Channel agreed to be on a sports tier when it negotiated its carriage agreement in 2005. “Tennis Channel received exactly the carriage it bargained for and agreed to,” says Comcast VP Government Communications Sena Fitzmaurice.
Listen to (and share) Episode 33 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media, as Deadline’s Executive Editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom look at earnings-season results for most of the Big Media companies; a worrisome prediction for summer box office bombs just as the summer movie season kicks off; the FCC’s new chairman; and DreamWorks Animation’s new tech acquisition.
There was laughter at the White House moments ago when the President, who was also smiling, said he anticipates “a speedy confirmation process.” That may be too much to expect following his nomination of Core Capital Partners’ Tom Wheeler, 67, to be the nation’s chief communications regulator. But the FCC won’t be leaderless once Chairman Julius Genachowski steps down: President Obama designated Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to be Acting Chairwoman until Wheeler’s aboard. Wheeler’s mandate is to make sure that the U.S. is “at the cutting edge” of technological change, promoting “American ingenuity and American innovation,” the President said. Genachowski says that he can “attest to Tom’s commitment to harness the power of communications technology to improve people’s lives, to drive our global competitiveness, and to advance the public interest.”