April 27, 2010
By Amy Maclean
While ACA is among the 14 petitioning the FCC for changes to the retrans consent process, it’s not dealing with exactly the same situations at Time Warner Cable and other large distributors who joined together in the filing.
“We know that within that group there are different views of what the remedy should be,” ACA pres/CEO Matt Polka said during a recent lunch with reporters. “ACA also will be commenting individually.”
ACA’s chief differing concern is price discrimination—with smaller operators lacking the same kind of leverage as larger distributors to negotiate lower prices. But the group, which has been lobbying for retrans changes for 17 years, knows it is advantageous to hitch its horses to the petition signed by big distributors, like Cablevision, DirecTV and DISH.
“We’ve had a voice, but it’s been a whisper until the larger companies started having the same problems. Now everybody is paying attention,” said WOW! pres/CEO Colleen Abdoulah. “For us smaller guys, we don’t have that leverage. The signals were getting taken off and no one was listening. We just keep absorbing these triple digit increases. Why would we? Because we have to compete.”
Wave Broadband COO and ACA chmn Steve Friedman echoed that sentiment, saying he doesn’t believe that dropping a channel is really an option given the competition that’s out there.
“This is the first time in 17 years that we’ve had a 2-way discussion in Washington on retrans,” said Cable One’s Tom Might. Might is no stranger to retrans skirmishes, with the CEO saying that 8 of his DMAs lost stations in the last 5 years. “It never reached Congress or the FCC,” he said. Nor did it make the kind of headlines that the spats between Cablevision and Disney and TWC and Fox made—even though NBC and Fox were off the air in 1 LMA for 12 months.
With an extremely ambitious agenda pending at the FCC related to the National Broadband Plan, it’s far from a slam dunk that there will be any movement on retrans. But ACA is hoping that this could be it, pointing to recent comments by FCC chmn Julius Genachowski that there are legitimate questions as well as a call by Sen Daniel Inouye (D-HI) to revisit the issue. Time will tell how loud ACA’s whisper will grow… Initial comments on the petition, which seeks to keep signals on during negotiations and calls for an arbitration process, are due May 18.