That Other ‘War’

More and more often these days we are framing industry programming disputes as retrans "wars," or "battles" over carriage--over two thousand Google hits for the former phrase, including several from our own magazine.

Don't get me wrong, they are legitimate beefs, and involve millions, even billions, of dollars, with opposing sides equally passionate in their beliefs, or at least in defending their positions (there is that martial imagery again).

But as we took note last week of all the D-Day 70th anniversary tributes to the greatest of the Greatest Generation, we were reminded that, after all, this is not life or death, but TV. Broadcasters and cable operators are in the same business and they are even sometimes the same people, or at least parts of the same corporate families.

Neither side in these programing disputes are going hungry, though they are not making as much money as they think they should to please themselves and/or their shareholders.

The real wars were on the beaches of France and the Philippines, in Korea and Vietnam and Iraq and in the mountains of Afghanistan and against terror threats to our freedom, and the luxury to get lost in the hyperbole of business disputes and treat them like armed combat.

Yes, broadcasters ask more for their channels than cable operators want to pay or think they should have to. Yes, cable operators leverage strong channels to get carriage for weaker ones. Yes, the price of programming goes up because of a bunch of factors including relative power; policy decisions, or indecisions; in Washington, and other factors too numerous to mention.

But all of us engaged in these TV "wars" and covering them from the hilltop, or the "trenches," have it pretty good because of the Greatest Generation's willingness to really fight, and die, in what was a horribly necessary war.

I’m not saying we will be able to avoid framing our business disputes in martial terms—frankly, I am surprised we haven’t used a “London blitz” metaphor for retrans blackouts.  I’m just saying that it is good to stop and remember that cable operators and broadcasters are really on the same side, which is providing entertainment and service to the public. They are fierce competitors, and should be, but they are not enemies.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.