Media Bureau Chief discusses FCC retrans role


Discussing the Sinclair/Mediacom negotiations, FCC Media Bureau Chief William T. Lake described the FCC’s role as “circumscribed.” About all it can do, he said, is to enforce Congress’s mandate for “good faith” negotiations.

Lake said, “We observed in discussing the statute, ‘[w]e believe that, by imposing the good faith obligation, Congress intended that the Commission develop and enforce a process that ensures that broadcasters and MVPDs meet to negotiate retransmission consent and that such negotiations are conducted in an atmosphere of honesty, purpose and clarity of process.’”

He continued, “Despite our circumscribed role in retransmission consent negotiations, we were pleased to help to facilitate the parties’ concurrence in this extension when their negotiations had not produced a new carriage agreement by today.”  

He went on to recommend that Mediacom and Sinclair use the extra time they allotted profitably and to reach an agreement, and to bear in mind that there are consumer interests to weigh in addition to the interests of the negotiating parties.

RBR-TVBR observation: There you have it – retransmission negotiations are a private business matter. Under the current rules, the FCC can say, “Sit down, children, and talk nicely,” and that’s about it.

Of course, Congress has the power to change the rules. But as the Fox/TWC agreement shows, the battles are usually loud, heated, and quickly resolved once the deadline has been reached. We expect Sinclair and Mediacom will also come to terms.

We are less confident making a prediction on the cable operator v. cable programmer battle between Scripps (Food Network, HGTV) and Cablevision – with no broadcast public interest angle, there is less excuse for the government to get involved. But we are getting some buzz on our own website, apparently from viewers upset at losing the Food Network. If there is enough pressure from subscribers, Cablevision may have to make a move.