McAdams On: Protecting TV Consumers
3/5/2010 1:30:08 PM
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts this week
implored the FCC to “help protect TV consumers.” He’d written a letter to FCC
chief Julius Genachowski urging the chairman to prevent WABC-TV from yanking
its signal off Cablevision systems. The two are deadlocked in retransmission
talks. WABC is threatening to cut Cablevision off the night before the Academy
“These are private negotiations, but there’s a public interest at stake,” he
said. “Its resolution matters to the consumers who take hard-earned money out
of their wallets each month to pay their cable bills and shouldn’t become
collateral damage in wars between executives.”
In reality, there are no bodies strewn on Long Island in a firestorm waged by Disney’s
photogenic Mr. Iger and the earthy Dolan patriarchy. No one has suffered so
much as an inconvenience and it’s unlikely they’ve even noticed this battle
royale that has our friends in Washington grumbling and sermonizing like
codgers in the Parliament.
The Democratic senator knows this, of course. And he probably wouldn’t care had
not one of his Westchester pals called and said, “John, could you be a dear and
please tell Charlie and Bob to knock it off. I’m having an Oscar party on
Sunday. Tipton is dressing up in a bomb suit and I’m going to be Neytiri from
The preceding conversation was a dramatization, similar to Sen. Kerry’s
battlefield allusion. Both are meant for effect. Had he really wanted to make
WABC stay on Cablevision, he could have whipped up a law. Granted, that takes
some doing, but it has a bit more gravity than a publicized letter to an
appointed bureaucrat. That’s a way for the good senator to appear to be doing
something about which he has no intention of doing anything.
But just to make sure he has no intention of doing anything, Rep. Joe Barton of
Texas wrote a letter of his own, now don’t think he didn’t. Barton is a Texas
Republican, and with all due respect, I wouldn’t play poker with the man even
if the alternative involved watching reality TV. He’s got some shift to him,
that one, but he does talk like a human being and not some programmed meat
puppet like a lot of folks on the Hill.
“The deal is best left between the respective companies... free from government
interference or cajoling,” he said in the slightly more formal written word.
“The alternative is to ask the government to weight the relative value of
carriage and of particular programming. This is a risky proposition.”
I have lived in Washington. I have worked on Capitol Hill. I don’t even want to
start imagining what these people watch on TV, particularly what they don’t
Barton goes on to make the multiplatform argument. That if WABC yanks its
signal, Cablevision customers can get the programming another way. E.g.,
possibly another pay provider, although most subs now have bundles that include
voice service that DBS can’t provide. And overbuilders are still rare in cable
TV. ABC isn’t streaming full coverage of the event online, so there’s really
only one other way for people to get the Oscars.
Free. Over the air. With an antenna. Not exactly a tragedy of monolithic
proportion. I’m with Joe on this one. Let the boys battle it out. They’ll come
to some sort of deal, if only temporarily, by Sunday if not sooner. It’s the
Oscars. And Westchester County. Duh.