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ACA Takes Aim at Gannett/Belo 'Virtual Monopolies'

The American Cable Association is trying to use Gannett's $2.2 billion purchase of Belo to buttress its argument that the FCC should prevent coordinated retrans negotiations via joint sales or services agreements, which it calls shadow duopolies that skirt local ownership caps.

In a statement on the deal, which was announced Thursday (June 13), ACA president Matt Polka took aim at the deal's size -- Gannett has said the deal creates a "super group" of 43 stations -- and what he said would be a virtual duopoly strategy to skirt FCC rules. Gannett has said it plans to "restructure ownership" of the Belo stations in markets where they both have outlets and will provide station services for the new owners that emerge.

"ACA believes it is time for the FCC to prohibit the coordination of retransmission consent in the pending media ownership review -- or else it will truly be 'Look out, Belo' for those consumers soon to be victimized by Gannett's virtual duopoly," said Polka.

Gannett had no comment and a Belo spokesperson had not returned a request for comment at press time.

"ACA conveniently forgets that the ten largest pay TV providers control 93 percent of the subscription TV market, and that unlike local broadcasting, there are no caps on ownership limits in the cable TV business," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton (Belo and Gannett are NAB members). "The undeniable fact is that local television remains far more diverse and fare less consolidated than our pay TV competitors."