FCC Claims Lack of Jurisdiction in Hulu, Sinclair RSN Dispute

FCC seal
(Image credit: FCC)

WASHINGTON—The FCC has clarified its position in regards to the ongoing dispute between Hulu and Sinclair Broadcast Group over carriage of certain regional sports networks, with Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel saying that the commission is not able to wade in to help with any negotiations.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wrote a letter in January to execs of The Walt Disney Company, which owns Hulu, and Sinclair, about the desire to end the dispute that has seen 21 Sinclair-owned RSNs unavailable on the Hulu + Live TV service, which threatens to cut off more than 100,000 Ohio Hulu subscribers' access to local sports content. In the letter he asks that the FCC monitor and help facilitate a resolution.

“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen and more sports venues close their doors to fans, it is more important now than ever that we foster community, hope and social connection by offering Ohioans and communities across the country reliable access to local sporting events,” wrote Sen. Brown.

However, Rosenworcel pointed out in a response dated Feb. 16 (released by the FCC on Feb. 25) that the FCC’s program carriage rules only allow it to govern negotiations between third-party video programming vendors and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs). Hulu + Live TV is a non-MVPD over-the-top linear video provider, Rosenworcel explained, meaning the FCC does not have jurisdiction over carriage disputes.

“Nevertheless, I share your interest in the parties continuing to negotiate in good faith and hope they will come to agreement to minimize any disruption to Hulu + Live TV subscribers,” Rosenworcel wrote.

TV Tech’s sister publication Multichannel News reports that there have been some talks to revive the effort previously led by Tom Wheeler when he was FCC chair to classify OTT platforms as MVPDs, especially as the role of streamers has grown in recent years.