Retransmission battle lines haven't budged an inch


Broadcast interests said that the programming they provide to MVPDs is valuable and that they deserve to be compensated for providing it. Cable interests said that broadcasters are coddled by the rules and government intervention is needed to level the retransmission negotiation playing field. If that comes as a surprise, than you haven’t been paying attention to the ongoing retransmission wars.

The verbal battle was joined in the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. To start at the ending, just before the session adjourned Kerry did not threaten any immediate action on the matter, but asked all involved to “think about it,” and to try to figure out where there may be room to compromise.

Earlier, after opening statements were made, Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) used his question period to let Fox’s Chase Carey and Cablevision’s Tom Rutledge go at it head-to-head.

Rutledge said that in the recent dispute Fox wanted compensation that Cablevision found to be “irrational.” It was interested in securing a price it felt was in line with other broadcast deals, and would have welcomed binding arbitration.

Carey responded that its request was anything but irrational, but of course seemed large compared to the $0 it was receiving. Carey noted that its request was perfectly in line with its deals with other distribution platforms, and was for a fraction of what other cable-only program services are getting paid.

Other witnesses included Time Warner Cable’s Glenn Britt, Univision’s Joe Uva and Ovation’s Charles Segars.
Other running themes throughout the event: Cable complaints about special privileges afforded to broadcasters, such as must carry, market exclusivity, a no-pull-during sweeps mandate and free access to the public airwaves. They said that when they hold firm during a negotiation they are protecting their subscribers, as well as fighting to keep costs down as they compete with satellite and telco distribution platforms.

Broadcasters said that they are the key providers of important local programming, and that the vast and rapid changes in the media world have made it clear that stations are need of the same dual revenue stream enjoyed by cable channels. They generally provide the most-watched programs and are only asking for a fraction of what the biggest channels get; they are watching powerful cable channels pull key programming away from broadcast and on to cable; and unless retransmission money is coming in, things like local news are put at risk.

Consumers, of course, loomed large throughout the proceeding. Senators claimed to be looking out for their interests, labeling them pawns, hostages and victims. Cablers said they were protecting their wallets, trying to hold down subscription fees. And broadcasters said they were protecting consumers access to quality local news and programming, something they need the dual revenue stream to continue providing.

Pictured: Fox exec Chase Carey