McSlarrow: Cable Fundamentals ‘Pretty Strong’
NCTA president speaks with C-SPAN about retransmission-consent quiet period, Comcast's network management, a la carte.
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/2/2008 7:25:00 AM
The fundamentals of the cable business are "pretty strong," but liquidity and the credit markets remain an issue for the industry and a question mark. "Are deals going to get done, are investments going to get made?”
McSlarrow also said he thought it would be in broadcasters’ best interest to sign on to a longer retransmission-consent quiet period, that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) may be the better presidential candidate in terms of his approach to video-content issues and that the Federal Communications Commission's smackdown of Comcast’s network management was so arbitrary that it might argue for a network-neutrality statute.
Asked what he meant by cable's "strong fundamentals," McSlarrow said the industry weathered waves of "huge competition" over the past decade, first from satellite, then from telephone companies. But in the process, he added, cable became "stronger, better and more nimble, and we've done OK -- I think maybe a little to Wall Street's surprise."
One big issue for cable is the proposed retransmission-consent quiet period around the digital-TV transition date Feb. 17, 2009. Cable operators want a moratorium on pulling TV-station signals starting at the end of December and continuing on for a "reasonable period" past the DTV date. Broadcasters volunteered a four-week quiet period -- two weeks on each side of the date.
McSlarrow is also interested in a broader review of the retransmission-consent process, which broadcasters do not favor. He said he has argued to broadcasters that, "If [they] don't want politicians looking at retransmission consent, [they] are better off not risking pulling those signals during the digital transition, or else you are going to have a lot of angry constituents calling their members of Congress, who are going to be looking at broadcasters wondering why they messed up the digital transition.”
McSlarrow called the broadcaster proposal "fundamentally flawed," pointing out that the agreements expire Jan. 1, so it would not make sense for signals to get pulled, then put back on when the quiet period starts in early February. "In the run-up to the transition,” he added, "that is precisely the time you don't want to send mixed messages."
McSlarrow said the FCC is currently "floating" consideration of opening a short comment period for the public to weigh in on a quiet period.
McSlarrow told C-SPAN he was "a little disappointed" that telecommunications policy was not higher on the agenda of either presidential candidate. But he did say he thought he could work with either administration and whoever was picked to staff the FCC.
He said Obama "may be a little better on some of the content side of the spectrum." Asked to elaborate, he said he was talking about an approach to content that recognized that there are technologies available today -- the V chip, set-top boxes -- to empower parents to take responsibility and control over TV viewing, rather than having government step in to regulate content. "I think he has shown recognition of that," McSlarrow said, adding that he was not "hanging his hat on that."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for his part, "has been clearer that he is very cautious about micromanaging how people operate and run their networks," he said. "It will be a mixed bag."
McSlarrow said he was also well aware of where McCain stood on cable a la carte. While McSlarrow said McCain clearly preferred an a la carte world, he added that the Republican candidate did not want it mandated, which McSlarrow called a "significant" difference.
"I'm not sure I'm against an a la carte world if it is not mandated," McSlarrow said, echoing a point he made before. He conceded that an increasingly on-demand world could drive an a la carte business model.
McSlarrow -- an early fund-raiser, supporter and friend of McCain -- said he was not interested in a post in a McCain administration, adding that he had no reason to believe it would be offered.
The NCTA supported Comcast's challenge of the FCC's ruling that it violated open-Internet-access principles in its network-management practices. McSlarrow defended that support, saying that the FCC's decision was "arbitrary and capricious" to the point where he wasn't sure a network-neutrality statute wasn't the way to go. "I'm not prepared to go there at this point, but I have to say that it has crossed my mind," he added.
Well, well, well. Hereâ€™s Kyle McSlarrow using the cable industry controlled C-Span to put forth cableâ€™s position.
I wonder if C-Span is willing to let the broadcasterâ€™s association spokesperson have â€˜equal timeâ€™; or maybe to allow a spokesperson for the leased access programmers association have the same opportunity to explain how the cable industry has misled the court and OMB re the new rules.
Heâ€™s wrong on congress being involved. This appears to be the only way to have the truth be displayed in the way cable is able to circumvent having to fully comply with the law.
Charlie Stogner - 10/7/2008 8:32:00 AM EDT
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