This month, the American Cable Association will co-host with NCTC The Independent Show in Orlando, and that group will be presenting two panels during that gathering. Communications Technology spoke with ACA President/CEO Matthew M. Polka, who gave us a sneak peak regarding some of the issues that will be addressed during the show.
What will be the member take-aways from this year’s Independent Show?
They will be fully briefed, via two panels at the show, as to what is going on in Washington, where it all is headed and what we need to do. We expect it to be a really substantive look at how things are changing.
What are the front-burner issues your constituents face today?
Number One is the need to continue the press on Washington to review programming pricing and retrans consent in addition to lack of choices for consumers. We need to concentrate on where things are now and how to keep thing moving. Number Two is broadband-related reform at the FCC. The FCC is segueing from USF to universal broadband, and one set of old rules has favored one operator over another. We now want to ensure fairness. We want to make sure the FCC is targeting areas that really need broadband instead of those areas that already have it. But I am encouraged.
Now that the FCC has a full complement of commissioners, how do you think pending issues will fare moving forward?
The addition of Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai is great for the commission in a number ways. Having a full commission is better than not having one – it allows for the greater debate that needs to occur. The thing that will really help is that they are not outsiders from outside the Beltway; they come with a deep Hill background, working with committees that have direct oversight of the FCC. They are probably two of the most knowledgeable people who could come to the commission, knowing how the Hill and the FCC interact.
Can we talk about the recent Media Bureau public notice regarding OVDs and possible regulation as MVPDs? If this were to happen, what would it mean for members?
This could happen, ultimately, but we think it will involve congressional action first. And this involves things the OVDs both want and don’t want: They want access to the program-complaint process so that they could bring complaints against vertically integrated programmers (re: the Sky Angel complaint). However, be careful what you ask for, because all the rules and regulations MVPDs need to follow today would have to be followed by OVDs, including must-carry, copyright, licensing and on. If they are going to compete with us, they should be saddled with the same rules.
What can cable operators do to continue to provide the best of programming without going broke doing it?
Pricing isn’t going south, it’s going north, particularly when it comes to sports. Sports programmers claim to be the driver, the reason people buy cable. However, looking at the last Super Bowl, only 50 percent of viewers were watching it but they were paying for it, and they’re still paying for it. The biggest change I’d like to see is the ability of our members to offload sports programming into a higher (or premium) tier so that customers who don’t watch sports don’t have to pay the freight. Reports say that the typical monthly cable bill will reach $200, and there is a point between where things stand now and that day when subscribers simply will say they’ve had it. They will call their congressmen and ask for more regulation, but it’s not our fault. We are subject to programmers’ whims. We want to see greater choice in our carrier agreements.
What is the one strategy operators must adopt this year in order to stay competitive?
Online access/online rights/TV Everywhere. We are at a disadvantage because the rules, as they stand now, don’t give us the same access. As the market changes and as our customers look online for more TV viewing, the content providers haven’t been as willing to give us the same access rights as they give larger providers. NCTC is trying to get us those rights but the programmers need to play along. This is an important to our members moving forward, and we are willing to partner and to pay reasonably for these rights.