It's Official: Retrans Coalition Unveiled

ATVA says it is about consumers; NAB counters it has credibility of 'BP execs joining Greenpeace'
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Retransmission
consent critics led by Time Warner Cable have formed ATVA, the American Television
Alliance, billing it as giving voice to consumers. The announcement confirmed a
B&C blog post about the formation
of the alliance.

"The
mission of the new coalition...is to ensure consumers are not harmed -- or
their favorite shows held hostage -- in negotiations for carriage of broadcast
programming," said the group in a statement.

The
coalition features virtually all of the backers of a petition to get the FCC to
step in to require arbitration and standstill agreements during retransmission
impasses, and comes as Time Warner is trying to negotiate a new carriage deal
with Disney.

The
petition, filed last March
,
came in the wake of a high-profile retrans impasse between Time Warner Cable
and Fox last December, and the more recent standoff between Cablevision and
Disney-owned WABC.

"We've
come together because we all recognize that consumers aren't getting a fair
shake from broadcasters, and face an unfair choice: Pay more for their favorite
programs, or have them taken away," said American Cable Association President
Matt Polka in a statement Wednesday. "Working together with this diverse coalition,
we're going to fight hard to make sure viewers have a voice and Congress or the
FCC addresses this important problem."

The
coalition is an eclectic one that includes Cablevision, Verizon, DISH,
AT&T, the American Cable Association, Public Knowledge, the Parents
Television Council and Starz, among more than two dozen others.

Perhaps
AT&T and Cablevision are the strangest bedfellows, given that the two are
in the midst of their own carriage battle over AMC and other of Cablevision's
Rainbow Media subsidiary channels.
"Rainbow Media and its parent company
Cablevision are threatening to take AMC, IFC and WE tv channels away from
AT&T U-verse TV customers," said AT&T in a statement only an hour
or so before the coalition released its statement about the threats of
broadcast programmers pulling channels.

"This is an apples to oranges comparison," Cablevision said in a statement. "Retransmission fees are a scheme by the big broadcasters to extract billions from American consumers. Rainbow's matter relates to a private dispute over cable carriage fees which, as everyone knows, cable networks have always received from distributors. One has nothing to do with the other."

According
toATVA's mission statement, its goal: "[T]o give consumers a voice
and ask
lawmakers to protect consumers by reforming outdated rules that do not reflect
today's marketplace. We are united in our determination to achieve our goal:
ensure the best viewing experience at an affordable price, without fear of
television signals being cut off or public threats of blackouts intended to
scare and confuse viewers."

The
coalition effort includes a Web site
topped with pictures of happy families apparently gathered around
un-blacked-out sets.

"The
notion that Time Warner and its Big Pay TV allies are part of a group designed
‘to protect consumers' is about as credible as BP executives joining
Greenpeace," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis
Wharton. "Pay TV built its business on the backs of broadcast programming,
and it is not unreasonable for local TV stations to expect fair compensation
for the most-watched shows on television. The ultimate irony is that Big Pay TV
was against government intervention before it was for it, as evidenced by their
continued opposition to net neutrality rules."

Related

Passing the Retrans Buck

In the latest salvo in the battle between cable operators and broadcasters over pay for play, Charter Communications will start itemizing the price increases it says it has to pass along to customers because of retransmission consent costs.