The primary lobbying group and voice on Capitol Hill for the nation’s smallest and, in great part, most rural MVPDs has asked the FCC to grant a retransmission consent complaint filed by one of its members against one of the nation’s largest owners of broadcast TV stations.
In comments filed Monday with the Commission, Pittsburgh-based ACA Connects urged the Commission to grant the complaint filed by C Spire against Gray Television.
C Spire in July 2017 went live with a new streaming TV service that “eliminates the need for set-top boxes and revolutionizes how customers enjoy their favorite content.”
It is a major technology play introduced by Mississippi-based C Spire, which at the time developed C Spire TV as a consumer alternative to the traditional cable company.
C Spire Home GM Ashley Phillips said at the time, “It’s about time TV evolved from cable’s ball and chain mentality rooted in a bygone era.” C Spire TV’s tech is rooted in an app designed to run on Amazon, Apple and Roku, in addition to Android OS and Apple iOs smartphones and tablets.
Two years later, C Spire is an ACA Connects member, alongside tiny companies striving to compete with DBS providers and the onslaught of OTT platforms.
In its complaint, C Spire claims Gray refused to negotiate retransmission consent — or permit others to negotiate such consent — for a Mississippi station on one of C Spire’s local and in-state systems. This refusal, argued ACA Connects, both invalidated the “market modification” rules mandated by Congress and violated the FCC’s “good faith negotiation” rules.
The station at the focal point of the complaint is WLOX-13, a Gray-owned facility offering ABC programming on its main channel and CBS programming on DT-2 signal.
As RBR+TVBR first reported in April 2019, C Spire holds a franchise to operate a cable TV system in Diamondhead, Miss., giving it the opportunity offer ABC, NBC, FOX, The CW Network, MyNetwork TV and CBS programming from the Biloxi-Gulfport-Pascagoula, Miss. DMA.
To do so, a modification of the local TV markets for two stations was needed, as Diamondhead was considered to be in an “orphan county” and had long received New Orleans-based stations.
With C Spire’s petition unopposed, FCC Media Bureau Policy Division Senior Deputy Chief Steven Broeckaert concluded, “With respect to both of the stations, we are persuaded by the overall strength of the evidence that a sufficient market nexus exists between the station and Diamondhead.”
This triggered the market modification, putting Diamondhead viewers in position to receive Gray-owned WLOX and Morris Multimedia‘s WXXV-25, a FOX affiliate with NBC programming on DT-2 and the national feed of The CW on DT-3.
There was a snag, however, with respect to Gray and WLOX.
Gray has a network affiliation agreement with CBS that prohibits it from granting retransmission consent of a station to an in-state MVPD “in an area where the station has long been significantly viewed and (thanks to a market modification) is now located in the station’s own local market,” ACA Connects said.
Further, ACA Connects said, citing C Spire, “CBS will not waive that provision unless the MVPD also carries a duplicative, out-of-state station from further away.”
This, assumingly, is in reference to WWL-4 in New Orleans, the CBS affiliate owned by TEGNA.
As C Spire and ACA Connects see it, “Gray, in other words, has essentially contracted away the station’s ability to negotiate … in good faith as required by the Commission’s rules. This makes a mockery of the market-modification process that Congress promulgated to promote the availability of local, in-state news. And, it violates the good-faith negotiation rules, which do not permit networks to preclude the negotiation of retransmission consent in their affiliates’ own markets—regardless of what other role networks may legitimately play in retransmission consent negotiations.”
Gray has not commented publicly on the matter. A request for comment has been sent to Gray Television’s Kevin Latek, its EVP and Chief Legal and Development Officer.