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FCC not likely to weigh in on retransmission consent issue

May 12, 2010 |  2:10 pm

If the cable industry is looking for help from the Federal Communications Commission in its fights with broadcasters, it should think again.

Top advisors to the Federal Communications Commission chairman and three commissioners, speaking at the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn.'s convention here on Wednesday, indicted that their bosses have little inclination to start regulating the disputes over fees broadcasters want cable operators to pay to carry their channels.

Over the last several months there have been a handful of high-profile fights between broadcasters and cable operators, including Fox and Time Warner Cable and more recently ABC and Cablevison Systems, the latter of which saw ABC temporarily pull the signal, causing New Yorkers to miss a portion of the Academy Awards until a deal was reached.

Several pay-TV companies, led by Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, asked the FCC in March to revisit the nearly 20-year-old "retransmission consent" rules that give broadcasters the right to seek fees from cable operators in return for carrying their channels. Specifically, the cable and satellite companies asked the FCC to pass rules that would take away a broadcaster's ability to pull its channel during a carriage dispute. Instead, the distributors advocated for an arbitration system.

Sherrese Smith, a legal advisor to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, said, “We see this as a market situation,” adding that most of these disputes are resolved before a channel gets yanked. She did express concern consumers not be kept in the dark on such battles.

Rosemary Harold, legal advisor to Commissioner Robert McDowell went a little further in her remarks saying, broadcasters are not acting in "bad faith" by "asking for more money."

-- Joe Flint

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