Lawmakers Dispute Retrans Dispute
March 4, 2010
WASHINGTON: Politicians addressing the retransmission
dispute between WABC-TV and Cablevision are of similarly contrasting opinions.
Sen. John Kerry, (D-Mass.) wrote a letter today to FCC Chairman Julius
Genachowski urging the regulator to prevent WABC from pulling its signal from
Cablevision systems. Rep. Joe Barton, (R-Texas) suggested otherwise.
WABC and Cablevision are locked in a retransmission consent stand-off of two
years’ duration. WABC says if Cablevision doesn’t pony up subscriber fees, it
will be without an ABC affiliate signal as of midnight Saturday night--less
than 24 hours before the Oscars.
“WABC Cablevision customers in Long Island, Westchester, Brooklyn, the Bronx,
and selected suburbs of Connecticut and New Jersey could lose Channel 7 at
12:01 a.m. Sunday, March 7, 2010 due to the impasse,” N.J. Burkett posted at
site. “At issue is the amount of money Channel 7 is paid for its
programming. Although Cablevision already pays other programmers, Channel 7 is
not paid. As of Wednesday night, WABC-TV says it still has yet to receive a fair
offer from Cablevision.”
Cablevision says it already pays WABC parent Disney $200 million a year for other
networks, and that it’s asking for another $40 million for WABC. The MSO is
positioning the argument as an unfair tax on subscribers.
“In these difficult and challenging
economic times, it is not fair for ABC to force Cablevision and its customers
to pay what amounts to a new TV tax for the same programming that is
available today for free over the air and on the Internet,” Cablevision says on
its Web site.
So then Kerry says, “These are private negotiations, but there’s a public
interest at stake. 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 his letter to the chairman, Kerry asks that WABC be prevented from pulling
its signal during negotiations.
“I ask you to urge the parties to stay at the negotiating table and continue
transmitting ABC programming to Cablevision consumers,” he wrote.
Kerry further suggested retransmission regulations be updated.
“Today, a broadcaster can pull its signal from cable companies serving millions
of people if it does not get paid what it wants for that signal,” he wrote. “I
don’t believe they should be able to do that unless the cable company is
negotiating in bad faith, the broadcaster has submitted a claim of bad faith
negotiation to the FCC, and the FCC has determined that claim to be
true. At that point, then yes, the broadcaster should be free to pull
their signal....; That is not the law today, however. Currently, the
broadcaster can pull his signal at his or her discretion.”
And so then Barton says, let the kids fight it out, Muriel.
“Actual discussion of the deal is best left between the respective companies
and their viewers, free from government interference or cajoling,” he said.
“The alternative is to ask the government to weigh the relative value of
carriage and of particular programming. This is a risky proposition.”
Barton said there are multiple ways for people to get programming; it’s not as
if Cablevision subscribers can’t stick rabbit ears on the TV and see the
“This plethora of alternatives and the parties’ mutual interest in reaching a
deal are perhaps why the vast majority of content negotiations ultimately
result in a carriage deal no matter how many times one of the parties or the
other threatens to let the screen go dark.”
-- Deborah D. McAdams
(Image by bananawacky. Yes, bananawacky.)