TV Group Seeks FCC Retrans Intervention

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NegotiateNorthwest Broadcasting and other commonly-owned license groups says that satcaster DirecTV is failing to negotiate retransmission consent rates in good faith and is asking for the FCC to use its authority in the matter.


The dispute centers on stations in seven DMAs.

NWB wrote, “In this Complaint, a group of seven commonly-controlled broadcast companies establishes that retransmission consent negotiations the group has been conducting since the fall of 2014 with DIRECTV have reached an impasse over unbridgeable positions on price. During the negotiation, The TV Station Group has directly tied its position on price to marketplace facts by supplying DIRECTV with relevant generalized data from more than fifteen separate retransmission consent agreements it has reached this calendar year with separate MVPDs, facts which clearly establish the current market value of the group’s signals.

“DIRECTV, on the other hand, has responded with the bald assertion that it has its own facts, based on deals it has reached with other broadcasters, which DIRECTV claims establish a sharply divergent market value for the group’s signals. But, DIRECTV has repeatedly and resolutely refused The TV Station Group’s multiple requests that it provide the group with any underlying data DIRECTV may have relevant to its substantially disparate position on price.”

NWB states that the FCC clearly has the authority to intervene in the proceeding.

When NWB pointed out that it had presented solid evidence to establish the going rate for retransmission consent, and asked DirecTV to reveal its own “facts,” it got back the following responses:

On May 25, 2015: “[W]e will not fall victim to your silly and obvious tactics to try to audit our retrans deals so you can see them all. We did not ask you to send to us your supposed rates, and your unilateral decision to do so doesn’t give you the right to see our other deals. But trust [us], no other station group – especially small groups such as Northwest – are paid by DIRECTV nearly what you have proposed, let alone what your sheet says.”

On May 30, 2015:

“To repeat yet again, DIRECTV is not going to get pulled into your transparent trap to define what is ‘market’ by seeing our other deals. That is a precedent we will not set, including for NW. Please do not ask again.”

NWB said Congress intended the FCC’s power to assess good faith as “…an embrace of a welcome alternative pathway which allows the FCC to proactively and efficiently move to facilitate resolution of intractable disputes like this one, disputes that threaten to trigger the potentially destructive cycle of signal blackouts, with collateral damage to the innocently bystanding public.”

Northwest operates under a variety of license names in Spokane WA, Tri-Cities-Yakima WA, Medford OR, Yuma AZ, Laredo TX, Binghamton NY and Syracuse NY.

RBR+TVBR observation: Wow –we’ve seen more mature negotiating tactics on an elementary school playground than are exhibited here by DirecTV.

It is basing its negotiation on allegedly ironclad rate information that is nevertheless top secret, and using this as an excuse not to budge on its position.

We note once again that DirecTV is one of the big three MVPDs that gets into the vast majority of retrans disputes, along with Dish and Time Warner Cable.

Further, the scale of this dispute is worthy of comment. NWB is a small company providing local service to small markets.

By contrast, as NWB points out, DirecTV brought in $33.3B in revenue in 2014, and if its merger with AT&T goes through, it will be part of a conglomerate with combined 2014 revenue of $132.4B.

Somehow, and we remain mystified by this, when Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and former Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) looked at the retrans landscape in 2014, they somehow came to the conclusion that broadcasters were bullying the poor little MVPDs.

The FCC has a choice here – the alleged candor of Northwest, which we would think could be verified at the very least in ballpark terms by FCC staff, versus the unquestioned and self-acknowledged lack of candor from DirecTV, which is not falling for NWB’s “silly and obvious tactics.”
That should provide a great starting point for an FCC intervention.