Public interest groups want consumers first in retrans process


A trio of media watchdogs is asking the FCC to see to it that paying MVPD subscribers are the first, not last consideration during retransmission disputes, and are using the process to suggest a sort of a la carte lite program subscription option.

The three groups include the Parents Television Council, Consumers Union and Free Press.

In a release, they said they would like to see the FCC “…prevent a repeat of deadlocks that have deprived paying customers of access to television programming, and to reform retransmission processes to put consumer choice and the public interest ahead of parochial industry interests.”

The a la carte lite proposal would allow subscribers to opt out of any channels carried on an MVPD as a result of a bundled retransmission agreement, and get a discount for the refused channels.

A full a la carte system would allow each subscriber to completely custom-order their channel lineup, a regimen that MVPDs have strongly opposed.

Free Press policy counsel M. Chris Riley said, “Unless the FCC acts to fix this broken system, we can expect a long hot summer when consumers will likely be caught again between sparring broadcasters and cable companies, and will face more service disruptions and ever higher cable bills. These bills continue to go up, while many costs are going down. Consumers deserve a break.”

Dan Isett of the Parents Television Council added, “The Commission must act to shift the balance of power to the public. Consumers should no longer be prisoners of pricey bundles, but should have the freedom to select, pay for and receive in their living rooms only those channels they want. The Commission’s aim should not be to pick winners and losers in industry disputes, but rather to protect families and consumers.”

“Cable customers should get what they pay for, instead of being held at the mercy of these disputes between the cable companies and the broadcasters,” said Joel Kelsey of Consumers Union. “Consumers should be able to choose their channels, and they should get a refund when they lose access to the channels they pay for.”

RBR-TVBR observation: We would take issue with comments that we’re in for a long hot summer of service disruption due to contentious broadcast/MVPD negotiations. The fact is that service disruptions are exceedingly rare, and when they do come up, it is most likely near the end of the year when contracts typically expire.

Summertime disruptions are usually the result, not of retransmission negotiations, but of extreme weather that knocks out electrical and cable infrastructure.