FCC Chairman Proposes Limits On Local TV Alliances For Retransmission Deals

By | Thursday March 6, 2014 @ 11:00am PST

UPDATE, 12:41 PM: Public interest groups like Chairman Tom Wheeler’s retransmission consent and TV station shared services agreement proposals better than I envisioned. Public Knowledge says the plans “will represent a meaningful attempt to rein in programming costs.” Free Press CEO Craig Aaron lauded the chairman’s “willingness to steer clear of the mistakes of FCC predecessors who turned a blind eye” to TV alliances and ownership limits. But National Association of Broadcasters CEO Gordon Smith says he’s “disappointed but not surprised” by the initiative. “The real loser will be local TV viewers, because this proposal will kill jobs, chill investment in broadcasting and reduce meaningful minority programming and ownership opportunities.”  

PREVIOUS, 11:00 AM: Chairman Tom Wheeler is sure to frustrate public interest groups with the timid proposals he’s offering as part of the FCC‘s quadrennial review of media ownership rules, which is already two years overdue.Tom Wheeler He wants to bar two or more of the four biggest stations in a market from jointly negotiating retransmission consent deals with pay TV providers. For other stations, he’d adopt a “rebuttable presumption” that the cost of joint negotiations for retrans deals outweighs the benefits and therefore should be deemed a “failure to negotiate in good faith.” But for the most part he’s just seeking comment on whether ownership limits are still needed, as he “tentatively concludes” that the FCC should keep its restrictions on cross-ownership of newspapers and TV stations in a market. The proposal also will ask for comments on whether the agency should eliminate restrictions on combos of newspapers and radio stations, and radio and TV.

Related: FCC Fines Viacom, ESPN, And NBCU $1.9M For Misuse Of Emergency Alert Sounds: Video

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Bill Would Empower FCC To Protect Pay TV Subscribers In Retransmission Disputes

The proposal today from Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif) offers just the kinds of reforms that pay TV execs want, especially following the recent 32-day blackout of CBS-owned properties on Time Warner Cable systems. Many cable and satellite providers say that they’re virtually powerless to resist broadcasters who demand big price increases for the right to retransmit their shows. The ranking Democrat on the House Communications Subcommittee says her Video CHOICE Act would change that and ensure that pay TV subscribers aren’t  ”caught in the middle of a dispute they have no control over.” Her bill would give the FCC the authority to keep local TV stations on cable or satellite systems during negotiations. The proposal would bar owners of broadcast stations from making deals that also require pay TV providers to carry the company’s cable channels. It would give subscribers the freedom to order pay TV service without broadcast channels that demand high retransmission fees. (The signals are available for free to anyone with an antenna.) The Act also calls on the FCC to study the impact of sports networks on pay TV costs in the 20 largest regional sports markets. Eshoo offered her bill ahead of her subcommittee’s hearing this week to consider extending the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act — which expires at the end of 2014 — and to renew the FCC’s power to step in to retransmission disputes if it believes at least one side isn’t negotiating in good faith. Read More »

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DirecTV And Time Warner Cable Urge FCC To Block Gannett Purchase Of Belo

UPDATE, 7:50 AM: Gannett has a response for critics who asked the FCC to reject its acquisition plan with Belo. “This transaction is entirely consistent with all FCC rules, policies and precedent, and will bring substantial benefits to the public,” the company says.

PREVIOUS, WEDNESDAY PM: The $1.5B Read More »

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Sinclair Stations Could Go Dark On Dish Network Tonight

UPDATE, 9:10 AM: Sinclair’s angry about Dish’s “corporate greed” charge, and has fired back to “set the record straight.” The broadcaster says that the retransmission consent payments it wants for its stations “are substantially lower than the amounts … Read More »

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Lawmakers Ponder: Are Big Media Companies Too Powerful?

That wasn’t the precise topic of the Senate Commerce Committee hearing today. (It had the boring title: “The Cable Act at 20.”) But the question — as well as ones about whether the federal government over-regulates media — bubbled underneath the discussion of problems including higher-than-inflation annual pay TV price hikes, and contract disputes that sometimes result in blackouts of consumers’ favorite channels. Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W Va.) says that there’s too little competition in a system where pay TV customers “are still forced to pick larger and larger packages of channels no matter how few they watch.” His view resonated with Colleen Abdoulah, a witness who chairs the American Cable Association which primarily represents small and mid-sized cable operators. She says that broadcasters make “crazy payments for sports (rights) because they can be forced onto consumers…This abuse of power should be outlawed.” Mark Cooper of the Consumers Federation of America also called for changes that would enable pay TV customers to just buy the channels they want. “The only way to break the market power (of major networks and programmers) is to ensure consumers have choices.” Read More »

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Hearst: Time Warner Cable Holds Subs “Hostage” To Change TV Carriage Laws

UPDATE, 2:24 PM: Time Warner Cable’s response to Hearst: “Negotiations are ongoing,” it says. That’s it. But the American Cable Association, an industry trade group, was more outspoken about the broader dispute over … Read More »

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Dish Network Resolves Retransmission Consent Show Down With Hoak Media

Dish Network subscribers who live in the markets with one of Hoak Media’s 14 TV stations can see its programming again after a week-long black out. The companies settled their dispute, which Dish said followed Hoak’s demand … Read More »

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Is Congress Prepared To Deregulate Television?

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) apparently think so based on the cable- and satellite-friendly bill they submitted today called the Next Generation Television Marketplace Act. It would end retransmission consent — the rules that require pay … Read More »

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Cablevision Tells FCC: Let Us Carry Just The TV Networks We Want

No major cable operator hates paying broadcasters for the right to retransmit their free over-the-air programming more than Cablevision. Last year, it allowed ABC and Fox stations to go dark on Cablevision systems while trying to hammer out payment deals. So it’s interesting to see the three-point plan that Cablevision submitted to the FCC today to ensure that subscribers aren’t deprived from seeing the Oscars or the World Series while companies work out their differences.

First, it wants regulators to prevent broadcasters from packaging their services in a way that would require pay TV services to carry cable channels they don’t want in order to land programming from a must-have network such as ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. Second, if the cable operator can’t strike a deal with a network’s local station, then Cablevision wants the freedom to cut deals that would enable it to import signals from out-of-market network affiliates. And, third, Cablevision wants to be able to publicize the fees that broadcasters want. Read More »

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Stations Go Dark On Dish In Retrans Spat

Nellie Andreeva

A relatively small standoff over retransmission consent will probably get big attention because of its timing. LIN Media’s 17 stations, mostly CBS, Fox and CW affiliates, went dark on Dish Network systems today, just two days after the FCC said … Read More »

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