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Disney Offers Retrans Deal to Small Cable Ops

Disney, owner of the ABC television network, this week offered no-charge retransmission deals to more than 90 small cable operators in the 10 ABC-owned station markets.

The markets, which represent 91 of 113 (80 percent) of the small cable systems which operate in the same markets where the ABC O&O’s reside, will receive a three year proposal for 2009–2011, which will not require a fee or carriage of any other affiliated network.

“We are very pleased to support our smaller affiliates with this offer,” said Preston Padden, executive vice president, government relations, The Walt Disney Company. “American Cable Association President Matt Polka, the ACA Board, and each of the FCC Commissioners deserve credit for raising the concerns that led our Company to adopt this new policy.

The ACA, which has led the fight against what it terms “exorbitant” retransmission fees, called the offer a “step in the right direction,” but also described it as “small relief” for too few operators.

“On behalf of the American Cable Association and the very small number of cable
operators who qualify for the ‘Disney relief,’ we say it is about time,” said ACA CEO Matthew M. Polka. “Disney should be congratulated for being the first to see the blinding light on this issue, but should not be given a free pass on its ongoing market abuse against other small and medium-sized cable operators who will be still charged discriminatory rates.”

Polka goes on to say that the impact of this relief should be kept in perspective.

“It appears the relief would only apply to a small subset of small and medium-sized cable operators in markets where Disney owns and operates the local station, less than one percent of cable subscribers across the country,” Polka said. “Disney has not indicated any intention to have its local affiliates provide relief to independent operators in their markets. This is a drop in the bucket for operators and for subscribers.”

In a related development, the ACA this week asked the FCC to impose a “quiet period” on retransmission consent until full power analog signals are shut off next February, warning that such negotiations could confuse consumers already grappling with the DTV transition.

“If broadcasters are allowed later this year and early next year to continue their practice of pulling signals during retransmission consent negotiations to force small operators into accepting unreasonable terms, all the tremendous work and effort that has gone into making the transition a success could be for naught,” Polka told the commission. “We certainly cannot expect cable customers to distinguish between a disruption in service because of the transition and one caused by broadcasters pulling their signal. The Commission should do all it can to ensure contentious retransmission consent negotiations do not stand in the way of a smooth transition.”