Retrans Critics Unite!


Look for the coalition of the retrans unwilling to formalize its relationship.

Reliable information holds that a majority of the cable, phone and satellite operators and public interest groups that petitioned the FCC to step in to fix what they see as problems with the retransmission consent regime, are planning to join with more than a dozen others to create a coalition to take their critique to the web and the airwaves (a web site and ad campaign are standard currency for any ad hoc coalition).

The petition, filed last March in the wake of some high-profile retrans wrangles, was itself already a sort of informal coalition of strange bedfellows, putting Time Warner on the same page with Public Knowledge, Verizon and DirecTV in a pitch for FCC action on negotiations between broadcasters and cable operators over carriage.

Just last week, according to an ex parte filing, Time Warner’s counsel met with FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell to talk about the company’s desire for the FCC to adopt retrans reform, citing the “constant threat of service disruptions and cost increases.”

The FCC has collected comments on the petition, but has not yet decided what, if anything, to do about it.

There are said to be close to three dozen groups/companies in the new coalition, but all with the similar criticism that stalled retrans negotiations are consumer-unfriendly to the max thanks to what they see as a system skewed toward broadcasters.

The petitioners pushed the FCC for independent arbitration of disputes and standstill agreements that keep TV station signals on multichannel video providers during impasses. Both are expected to be big issues in the coalition as well.

Broadcasters have countered that the system works fine, that instances of signal-pulling are rare and that they are just beginning to get fair value for their valuable signals.

The coalition is expected to officially reveal itself sometime this week.