Despite Fox/MVPD armistice, retrans likely headed to the Hill


Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) have both been making public statements about legislative intervention into the retransmission negotiation process. And despite a pair of agreements over the weekend, they are still talking about legislative intervention.

Kerry said, “We’re all happy and relieved to see both strike an agreement and bring an end to a stalemate that frustrated so many consumers. Media interests have every right to play hardball and negotiate hard-nosed agreements. That’s the marketplace. But I believe it’s incumbent upon those of us in public policy to see if there’s a way to help protect consumers and avoid the now regularly scheduled, frequent games of high stakes chicken that leave consumers in the crossfire as collateral damage. Is there a better way? Common sense tells you there has to be. I don’t believe it’s really in anyone’s interests to have these scenarios play out again and again on a regular basis. Certainly at a minimum Congress can bring greater transparency to this process and empower consumers with more information, and work to disincentivize high stakes conflict. What I know is that this system is broken, and I think we’re all better off if we have a dialogue about systemic reform and modernizing the law rather than just jumping into the fray and getting involved in each conflict in isolation. The goal should be a more rational system, and I look forward to working with stakeholders, colleagues and the FCC toward that end.”

Lautenberg expressed similar sentiments, saying, ““I am pleased the people of New Jersey will have their programming restored and not be deprived another chance to see a powerful home team get out there and win again today. The two week blackout was absolutely unacceptable. It is clear that Congress must take new steps to make sure consumers are not used as pawns while broadcasters and cable companies negotiate fees. The FCC has informed me of its support for Congressional action and I look forward to working with Senator Kerry to update our laws and protect consumers.”

RBR-TVBR observation: The advent of Congressional hearings on retransmission consent has almost been a foregone conclusion – however, it does not at all mean that legislation will follow. It won’t be the first time the matter has been discussed before a congressional panel.

We hope that the fact that almost all such negotiations are completed without a disruption of service is entered into the record. And we hope that legislative remedy inviting government action on as flimsy and ephemeral a pretext as “good faith” is recognized as no remedy at all.

NAB’s Dennis Wharton took a moment to assure us that the organization is well aware of what’s likely to be coming down the DC pike, and said that they are well prepared to make the case for broadcasters. In fact, the organization has been making the case at every opportunity for some time now. Local broadcasters can do a lot for the industry as a whole by making the case with their own elected representatives.