No interim tier move for GSN in Cablevision dispute


The Game Show Network is crying foul over its move by cable operator Cablevision to a premium tier that it shares largely with sports programmers. It says it has been harmed by being placed away from other female-targeting channels, among other things. Cablevision contested all of GSN’s charges, and the FCC says that the evidence does not support the idea that GSN is a mortal lock to prevail in the dispute. Therefore, it stays put while the issue is under review.

The FCC release on the dispute is full of the usual two sides to the argument that has been held many times in the recent past, with a few specific to this dispute thrown in.

In general, GSN wants to stay where it once was, alongside We tv and Wedding Central, channels it says it competes with for the same pool of female viewers, as well as the same base of advertisers.

One of those is the fact that it took GSN quite some time to protest its placement on Cablevision’s lineup – if the damage is so great, why the wait?

Cablevision also sees the placement as less than fatal for a company available to over 75M subscribers, while Cablevision only serves 3M.

There is also turmoil over whether or not DirecTV’s stake in GSN, and its decisions regarding Cablevision properties, have spilled over into this dispute.

The FCC said it will handle the case, but noted that there was no overwhelming evidence that GSN stood to prevail, and without that, there can be no grant of the channel location it desires in the interim.

RBR-TVBR observation: In a general sense, just like slices of spectrum, channels on an MVPD are a limited resource. You’d think it would be a no-brainer to allow the owners of the MVPD to manage it to maximize value to customers and hence, their own company.

The problem comes thanks to the vertical integration of business interests that is a feature of the biggest media companies. Value can be determined by much more than consumer interest – in a completely unfettered market, an MVPD would have much to gain by favoring its own programming over competing services.

This situation does two things – it adds a value factor to carriage that is not necessarily keyed to consumer demand, and it brings in the need for a referee to make sure control over the limited channel resource is not being used in an anti-competitive manner.

Without even thinking about taking sides in this immediate dispute, we just wonder – how many times will the FCC need to be put in the middle of something like this before it starts advocating giving consumers the ultimate choice once again by mandating an a la carte menu option for all MVPD services?