Cable tries to drag retrans into localism debate


The American Cable Association (ACA), which represents small and medium-size cable companies, is trying to get the FCC to loosen retransmission consent rules as part of its inquiry into broadcast localism. In the name of localism, ACA wants its member cable systems to be able to carry in-state TV signals, even where other stations hold exclusive rights to network programming. Firing back, NAB says ACA is just out to break down the established network/affiliate relationship and “thereby undercut localized broadcast service.”

ACA charges that the Big Four networks and their affiliates currently prohibit many cable subscribers from receiving home-state broadcasts because the affiliates are barred from granting retransmission consent outside their DMA. “In some circumstances, especially in rural markets, this practice prevents cable customers from receiving in-state news, sports, weather, public affairs programming, and even political advertising for state elections.” So, the ACA wants the FCC to expand its current localism proceeding to consider changing the retrans rules so cable systems can negotiate retransmission consent with in-state broadcasters, regardless of DMA.

ACA’s claim is “factually and legally incorrect,” NAB fired back. “Although the networks may prevent their affiliates from granting retransmission consent outside their given DMA or significantly viewed areas with respect to broadcast signals of national network programming, nothing prevents an affiliate from granting retransmission consent with respect to regional and local programming,” the NAB said in its response. NAB also noted that broadcast signals don’t correspond to state lines, so many stations cover news in more than one state. Thus, the nearest in-state affiliate might be hundreds of miles away, while one just across the state line is actually providing local news and information of interest to residents of the area.

RBR/TVBR observation: You have to hand it to the cable guys. They are trying every which way they can think of to get out of having to pay retrans compensation. If they can’t continue to make money by selling their customers broadcast programming that they get for free, they can at least try to re-jigger the system so they can pick between multiple affiliates of a single network for the one that will give them the lowest retrans rate.

That could get really interesting in states like Texas, California and New York, which have lots of DMAs. You could have a rural cable system carrying a network affiliate from hundreds of miles away, instead of the one whose tower lights could be seen from subscribers’ homes.