Charles Segars, CEO of arts channel Ovation, says that the rules on retransmission consent are nearing 20 years of age and that the massive changes in the media world have rendered them obsolete. In particular, he says bundling is squeezing both MVPD channel space and cash from independent programmers.
“Unfortunately for consumers, the large media companies are bundling their ‘must carry/retrans’ broadcast stations with their cable nets, ultimately forcing carriers to pay more for their content. But bundling tactics also decrease carriage space and the rates paid to independent networks and, once again, it is the consumers who end up paying the price, literally,” stated Segars.
Segars noted sitting on a panel with Chase Carey of News Corp. at a 2010 Senate Commerce Committee hearing, and noted Carey’s remark that no one private industry should be allowed to manipulate the system to its own advantage. However, if appear to Segars that News Corp. is now doing just that, playing its broadcast stations and its cable channels off one another.
“The retransmission consent rules put in place nearly 20 years ago may have worked for the time, but no one should pretend that they represent anything close to a ‘free market’” he said. “With the advance of time and technology, what was once a ‘fair’ approach is now not. What is needed is a revision of current regulations to shift the balance of power so we can all focus on those who really matter: our consumers.”
Segars concluded, “Big media programmers and distributors need to stop worrying about ‘winning’ and concentrate on doing what’s right. Their broadcast stations were built on public airwaves and are now being used to extract more money and share of channel supply. It is time to revise the antiquated retransmission rules and create a level playing field where independent media voices can flourish and cable networks are carried based on the quality of their content, not the misappropriated power of their owners.”
RBR-TVBR observation: It is one thing to prevent a must-have cable channel from hitch-hiking seven or eight additional not-so-must-have channels as a condition of carriage; it is quite another to lump local broadcast television in with MVPD-only channels.
Local broadcast television is the predominant source of local news, information and emergency alert service for MVPD subscribers, and on most MVPD lineups it is the only source. For that reason, it needs to be protected.
Most stations are owned by relatively small media companies – only four companies own major broadcast network O&Os. Whatever the outcome of the ongoing retransmission debate, and for that matter, the spectrum debate, it is critical that free local television is protected.