ACA Says Big Programmers Are Distribution Problem

The American Cable Association, which represents small and mid-sized cable operators, says large media conglomerates are the reason its members don't offer more independent programming.

In comments in the FCC's Notice of Inquiry into independent programmers' access to distribution platforms, ACA said that onerous requirements like forced bundling and penetration requirements (having to deliver a channel to most of their subs) are systemic obstacles to programming access and must be dealt with.

ACA said penetration requirements prevent its members from offering the skinny bundles viewers want, though it put it much more entertainingly in its comments, dubbing its members SmallTown Cable. "Not only must SmallTown Cable buy the Downright Unpopular Channel [bundling] in order to get the Awesome Channel, but it must also offer the Downright Unpopular Channel to the vast majority of its subscribers."

It also said that most favored nation clauses demanded by larger distributors can prevent smaller operators from carrying independent networks and that programming fees for Internet content can raise the price of broadband and make it more expensive to access independent programming over the top.

As examples, ACA president Matt Polka said that while his members want to support a rural-targeted channel like World Fishing Network, they can't because it has to be bundled with an Esquire Network, which targets a more upscale, urban audience. He also said that because the SEC Network is bundled with ESPN, some members wind up carrying the SEC Network to the exclusion of the independent Pac-12 Network.

That contrasts sharply with Comcast's filing in the same docket, which says such business arrangements are pro-consumer and that access to distribution outlets is booming.

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.