As the Oct. 15 deadline for a Fox/Cablevision deadline approached, groups pushing for retrans reform weighed
in with calls for the government to step in.
Public Knowledge called for at least keeping the programming on the air during negotiations while the parties
"consider the use of arbitration," according to PK President Gigi Sohn.
Public Knowledge was part of a group of petitioners that included cable operators, satellite operators and
others calling on the FCC to mandate standstill agreements to keep programming on the air, and outside
arbitration to help resolve the disputes. PK also sought "transparency for all retransmission consent
contracts, and a requirement that retransmission consent licenses be on reasonable and non-discriminatory
"Now, New York area viewers may not see their Yankees in the American League playoffs, or the New York Giants
play regular season games, if Cablevision doesn't reach agreements with three New York channels by tomorrow
(Oct. 15)," she said, adding that it could "also affect the Phillies in the National League Championship
Fress Press, another group that has argued the retrans marketplace is broken, weighed in at the FCC Thursday
in an letter to Chairman Julius Genachowski.
Citing the Fox/Cablevision impasse but hearkening back to earlier tough retrans negotiations
between Mediacom and Sinclair, Fox and Time Warner and ABC and Cablevision, Free Press said that
while it takes no position on the merits of those disputes, "to the extent that these situations inject
uncertainty or result in the pulling of programming that consumers have paid for and expect to receive, the
Commission must intervene to protect the public."
Free press took the opportunity to push for arbitration as well mandatory break-outs of per-channel pricing,
including retrans costs for TV station signals, and as a la carte.
"When such negotiations devolve into an industry game of chicken that threatens to leave consumers in the
lurch, it is clear that the market is not properly functioning." Arbitration, price transparency and a la
carte, Free Press policy counsel Corie Wright argues in the letter, "would shift the balance of power to consumers and give them the freedom to choose and pay for only those channels they want."
Thursday that the FCC was working with the parties to help get a deal
done, but also that they recognized the consequences of not
doing so, though he did not elaborate.
Cablevision has agreed to arbitration, while Fox says that would "reward Cablevision for refusing to negotiate fairly and will only ensure that more unnecessary
disputes arise in the future."
The FCC has been reluctant to get in the middle of
retrans fights--beyond urging them to be resolved and pointing to the
consumer impact--viewing them as marketplace negotiations unless it can
be established that either side is not bargaining
in good faith.
Both sides said at press time they were continuing to negotiate.