The National Association of Broadcasters president and CEO David Rehr this week said his organization’s goal is to reframe its debate with the cable industry by finding new phrases instead of "multicast must carry" and "down conversion," remarks that his counterpart at the American Cable Association ripped into this morning.
In a keynote speech at the NAB Show in Las Vegas yesterday, Rehr said broadcasters should reposition the debate by arguing that cable operators want to withhold vital channels from consumers any time there’s a retransmission consent argument over broadcasters’ multicast digital signals.
"The NAB is anti-stripping," Rehr said, with a wink to his surroundings in Las Vegas. "Do not strip out our signals." Broadcasters’ digital signals are a boon to consumers, he added: "This is not a case where the pie is only so big and we want to eat the cable companies’ slices. Through the magic of compression technology, we are making the pie bigger by adding extra slices, extra programming. The cable companies intend to strip out our new programming because we’re in competition."
He also took aim at cable operators who want to down convert digital broadcast signals so analog subscribers can view them: "What we have here is broadcast discrimination by the cable companies. It is digital discrimination. It is HD discrimination. And doesn’t calling it discrimination make more sense than ‘down conversion?’"
Iin a bid to back up Rehr’s call to arms, the NAB released a research study that aims to prove that local broadcast signals are highly valuable to cable operators, and is running an ad twisting American Cable Association president and CEO Matt Polka’s words on retransmission consent (the NAB study and ad can be accessed here.)
Polka responded in his own keynote address today as he kicked off his organization’s annual Washington Summit, a lobbying effort bringing his membership—primarily small and independent cable operators—face to face with lawmakers and other key decision-makers in D.C.
Citing the NAB’s ad—which quoted Polka saying retransmission consent "is not something we can win on the academic merit and substance of our arguments"—he noted, "it wasn’t a period at the end of my sentence, it was a comma!" The rest of Polka’s sentence that NAB ignored: "… We win on the strength of our political message and the recognition on the part of Congress that there is a consumer need to be addressed."
Addressing the annual DC lobbying trip by 300 of his members—the ACA represents approx. 1,100 companies serving 8 million subscribers—Polka today described the challenges facing smaller operators as "we’re in the middle innings of a tough season with tough competitors. But we’ve been here before, and we’re in the game."
The issues the ACA is lobbying on the Hill this week include:
• the FCC’s set-top box integration ban, which Polka stated "makes no sense for consumers who will be forced to pay three times as much or more for a box that will deliver even fewer digital services and will cripple the digital roll-out in this country by cable."
• retransmission consent, which Polka called "wrong, and it has nothing to do with a fair or free market, because government rules and market exclusivity stack the deck before we even get to the negotiating table."
• the digital transition, which he said "without a right to down-convert signals makes no sense because who will be harmed the most? Consumers."
• Government-mandated DTV carriage and multicast must-carry; Polka countered: "What about earning that carriage with services consumers want, rather than asking Uncle Sam to mandate it?"
• and the perception of cable operators, of any size, as monopolists — "The only monopoly we’re familiar with is the one the broadcasters have from the government to keep out competition from their local markets."
For more from Polka’s speech today, click here.