Networks affiliates press for a fair STAVRA


U.S. CongressLeaders of affiliate groups for ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC are not thrilled with but would accept a straight reauthorization of the existing satellite TV law – but they have major problems with STAVRA as currently written, and have written to the leaders and members of the Senate Commerce Committee to explain.

They expressed gratitude that the onerous “Local Choice” language was scrubbed. It would have established a la carte rules for broadcast stations while imposing no such subscriber “choice” for cable-only channels.

The current language, however, still contains language which would govern retransmission consent negotiations, and again – it imposes new restrictions on broadcasters while letting MVPD operators off scot-free.

The foursome collaborating on the letter includes:
* Jim Conschafter, Chairman, NBC Affiliates Board
* Mike Devlin, Chairman, ABC Television Affiliates Board of Governors
* Michael Fiorile, Chairman, CBS Affiliates Board
* Jeff Rosser, Chairman, Fox Affiliate Board of Governors

The quartet wrote, “Most troubling is the provision that grants the FCC new authority over several aspects of the broadcast business which no clear record exists to support, and does so without extending that same regulatory authority to cable and satellite companies with whom local stations compete. We think a fundamental principle that should guide Congress’s review of this area is that both sides of the retransmission consent process should be treated symmetrically; obligations or limitations should not be imposed on either the broadcaster or MVPD alone. The bill violates this principle by imposing negotiation limitations on broadcasters while allowing the largest cable companies in the country to engage in the exact same behavior.”

They continued, “The draft bill also is problematic because it asserts unprecedented extension of FCC regulatory authority over private marketplace negotiations, a step that is contrary to the public interest since it would impede the ability of local broadcast stations to compete in a highly competitive video marketplace for popular national entertainment and sports programming.  Singling out broadcasters and broadcasters, alone, for such enhanced regulatory treatment is patently unfair, discriminatory and anti-competitive, and it would create an even more uneven playing field between broadcasters and their principal competitors to the detriment of your constituents.”

They asked the Committee to stick to the knitting – satellite authorization – and leave the completely unrelated and subtle issue of retransmission consent out of it.

They stated, “While even a straight renewal of the expiring satellite television laws provides no benefits to broadcasters and runs contrary to our fundamental copyright laws, the affiliates and the National Association of Broadcasters have not opposed the legislation.  However, we urge the Committee to not use this vehicle to address extraneous issues that further undermine broadcasters’ programming rights, particularly where some provisions in the STAVRA draft have been aired publicly for the first time only a few days ago. At a minimum, such significant policy changes should be subject to thoughtful discussion and consideration, rather than being rushed through the Committee process.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Isn’t it great when the issue is subtle and complex and requires a scalpel, and the Congressional reaction is to grab a meat cleaver? And then to top it off wields the cleaver with the utmost incompetence?

The fact of the matter is that a scalpel may not even be required to address the issue of retransmission consent. The free market negotiation process is successful almost every time – and the exceptions almost always involve one of three recidivist service-interrupting MVPDs: Time Warner Cable, DISH and DirecTV.

If Congress were to once and for all confirm that the free market negotiation paradigm works and if it ain’t broke, it ain’t getting fixed, perhaps these three companies will finally stop hoping for regulatory intervention and as a result will stop precipitating service disruptions — downgrading retransmission consent to a mild irritant that on rare occasion leads to a disruption.