Video competition is a tangled web


The FCC’s annual report on competition in the video universe drew numerous comments, highlighting the competing agendas of broadcasters, cable operators, satcasters, telcos, independent producers and watchdogs alike. The NAB’s chief concern was to remind everybody of the importance of local over-the-air television and to argue that the current retransmission consent rules were working as Congress intended, although you would be hard pressed to find any MVPD operator who agrees.

In a nutshell, here are what various players had to say:

* The NAB said that programming costs represent a small and diminishing cost for cable operators, even while broadcast television remains one of the most popular program options they provide to subscribers. It said the fact that thousands of retrans contracts are currently in effect, proof that broadcasters are bargaining in good faith, and pointed out that stand-offs resulting in temporary loss of service are extremely rare. It also restated the arguments of satcasters as they continue their quest to import broadcast programming from out of market.

* NCTA says it is under assault from unprecedented competition. The satellite services have been around for awhile, and they are now joined by telcos and increasing internet video options. Since its share is on the downturn, it believes it is no longer necessary to grant their competition special favors, like access to cable programming (especially when they are creating their own exclusive local programming), wheel-greasing with local franchising authorities, and other things. It also states that the FCC does not have the authority to grant must carry status to Class A or other low power television stations.

* DISH Network said that satellite services and cable operators agree: Broadcasters ever excalating retransmission demands are hurting consumers and need to be addressed. It also wants strong oversight of the programming market to make sure conglomerates’ ability to withhold or overprice critical program channels.

* AT&T agrees that it needs fair access to programming to compete, meaning strong oversight of the programming market. It notes that rules facilitating its entry into new markets are increasing competition and benefitting consumers and needs to be continued, and would much prefer statewide franchising rather than community-by-community.

* Independent producer HDNet also wants programming oversight, but that’s because as an independent, it finds it difficult to impossible to crack MVPD channel lineups dominated by MVPD programming options. It echoes concerns of many other independents.

* Media Access Project, filing on behalf of the Consumers Union, said the FCC’s statistics on video competition are woefully inadequate to get a clear, picture of reality. It said consumers benefit from competition and that it should be encourage. It also echoed the need to monitor the programming universe to assure that independent producers get a fair chance to access channel lineups, which it called a means to assure program diversity.

RBR/TVBR observation: One thing the FCC study proves conclusively – there is plenty of competition, and each competitor is jockeying for position. The tough job for the FCC will be to balance these competing interests so that those providers who strike the best balance between compelling content and competitive pricing prevail.