Skip to main content

Broadcasters, Multichannel Carriers Haggle Over Retrans ‘Quiet Period’

Thousands of retransmission consent agreements—the fees paid by cable and satellite systems to carry broadcast signals worth paying for—are set to expire at year’s end. Most will be renegotiated without disruption. But some may not be, and the players are lobbying the FCC to create a “quiet period” around the date of the Feb. 17 full-power analog shutoff in order to avoid any additional confusion related to the transition.

Broadcasters have been increasingly aggressive the last few years in retrans fee negotiations, although public broadcasters may not charge such fees and full-power stations that can’t negotiate any payment may assert the right to be carried on cable with no money changing hands.

The American Cable Association told the FCC this week that its 1,100 members will have 4,000 to 5,000 retrans agreements expire at the end of the year. ACA would like the ceasefire to begin before the existing agreements run out. It wants the FCC to impose a quiet period—during which a channel couldn’t be yanked by a broadcaster, even in the absence of an agreement—starting Jan. 1 and continuing through May 31.

In a debate about money, both sides cite concern over consumer confusion or education regarding the DTV transition.

“Taking retransmission consent agreement disputes off the table before the DTV transition and for a reasonable time afterward will not only benefit cable customers and television viewers, but will also encourage a smoother transition to digital television by permitting cable operators and broadcasters to both focus their energies on resolving technical issues and educating consumers,” ACA told the FCC.

(Among the technical issues: Some systems that still rely on the analog signals of broadcasters must acquire digital-to-analog conversion equipment to receive and then distribute the channels.)

NAB has proposed—and its Television Board unanimously endorsed—a four-week window, from Feb. 4 to March 4. That period would actually extend all the way to April 1, because cablers are not allowed to pull stations during sweeps, which will run from March 5 to April 1.

ACA noted that the NAB “voluntary” proposal did not include stations owned by CBS or News Corp., as well as many independent operators. It does include NBC, ABC and most of the nation’s largest station groups.

Dish Network said in a statement it supports a “quiet period” from Dec. 15 to March 4.