Two congressional takes on retrans consent, one FCC response


Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) Ranking Member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, both wrote letters to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. They expressed contrasting views of the retransmission negotiations involving carriage of WABC-TV in New York.

The negotiations between Walt Disney Company, owner of WABC, and Cablevision, was among the handful each year that involve a certain amount of brinksmanship, and in the 2010 duel, broadcast of the Oscars was seen by some as being inappropriately used as a bargaining chip with Cablevision subscribers being held hostage.

Kerry acknowledged that retransmission agreements come about as the result of private negotiations. But he said ownership of exclusive rights to events such as the Oscars or the Super Bowl gives broadcasters an unfair advantage, and he would like the FCC to step in and find an alternative to pulling a channel as a negotiating tactic. “I have suggested an answer here and I am open to alternatives,” he concluded. “But this game of chicken being played again and again between cable companies and broadcasters with consumers in the crosshairs must come to an end.”

Barton also said the process was private, but added that it needs to stay that way. “Pay-TV providers have more sources of content and programmers have more sources of distribution than ever before. In light of this competitive marketplace, justification for government intervention has all but evaporated. Both sides to these negotiations hold valuable assets, and both sides appropriately have a legal right to withhold those assets if they do not believe the proposed deal provides the proper value proposition. It is only when both sides face the risk that programming might be dropped that a true market negotiation can take place.” Barton said viewers have plenty of options – other programs not on WABC, or other MVPDs that continue to carry WABC, to choose from.

Genachowski thanked each legislator for his comments and noted that an FCC proceeding on the matter is in progress.