FCC backs programmers in carriage disputes


Three cable programming services have convinced the FCC that they have prima facie evidence on discrimination from various cable system operators, and in all three cases the Comission has referred the cases to either an administrative law judge or an alternative dispute resolution proceeding.

The channels are WealthTV, the NFL Network and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. All claim that their ability to compete has been harmed by cable operators, who include Time Warner, Bright House, Cox and Comcast.

In the WealthTV dispute, channel owner Herring Broadcasting says its service is being kept off cable systems in favor of a similar channel – MOJO – in which the cable operators have an interest. The NFL protested the decision of Comcast to limit access to its service by placing in on a higher-priced programming tier. MASN, which carries MLB baseball games of the American League Baltimore Orioles and National League Washington Nationals, claims Comcast is not carrying it thoughout the territory associated with the teams.

The FCC stated the same ruling in all three cases, writing, “…we direct this matter to an ALJ and order that the ALJ return a Recommended Decision in this matters to the Commission pursuant to the procedures set forth below within 60 days of the release of this Order.”

RBR/TVBR observation: Some media watchdogs are content to rail against large local clusters; others like to point out examples of vertical consolidation, and this case hinges on that concept to an extent. Cable operators do not want anybody telling them what channels to include or where to put them. Independent producers want to be included, and suspect that all things being equal, the vertically integrated channel is going to get the nod, even if the operator’s ownership stake is miniscule. The FCC is siding with the independents here – it’ll be interesting to hears what the ALJs have to say.