Here come da judge


The epic battle between independent programmers and cable MSOs now has a hearing date. Administrative Law Judge Arthur I. Steinberg will preside over the proceedings which will commence Monday 10/27/08. The conflict pits programmers WealthTV, the NFL Network and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network against operators Time Warner, Bright House, Cox and Comcast. The FCC said that the programmers had successfully made a prima facie case that the operators had used their gatekeeper power to favor channels in which the operators had an interest, and otherwise damaged the ability of the programmers to compete.

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 throughout the territory associated with the teams.

RBR/TVBR observation: This will probably wind up being another tangled mess. The cable dial is not an unlimited harbor where any channel can come in and drop anchor. At some point, one channel will get a dock at the expense of another. Who ultimately makes that decision? If Steinberg backs the programmers, that answer should be less clear than when the hearing is gaveled into session.