With the DTV transition winding down, the latest broadcast battleground appears to be retransmission consent deals between over-the-air television stations and cable operators. The American Cable Association (ACA) is asking Congress to overhaul retransmission consent, while broadcasters want to maintain the status quo.
The ACA is seeking changes to network non-duplication rules and exclusive contracts that bar cable operators from carrying TV stations located outside their markets. They also want cable systems to be permitted to offer stand-alone broadcast tiers which satellite TV providers now offer. Relaxing such restrictions would give cable operators more leverage in negotiating with broadcasters, according to the ACA.
Federal legislation passed in 1992 allows television stations to elect either mandatory cable carriage known as must carry or retransmission, a negotiated agreement in exchange for carriage.
Some cable operators contend that broadcasters are taking advantage of retransmission consent to make excessive financial and programming demands from cable operators. The operators claim that the playing field has changed, with satellite television providers making significant inroads into rural markets without the same carriage obligations.
John Casey, an economist and co-author of the report, said the economic value brought to broadcasters by cable carriage is often overlooked.
Bob Lee, president and general manager of WDBJ, a family owned station in Roanoke, Virginia, said the ACA study is “riddled with flaws.”
NAB president David Rehr argued that consumers benefit from the existing rules. “Retransmission consent is fair,” he said, noting that cable systems benefit by carrying heavily watched broadcast stations that consumers demand.