ATSC 3.0 at Center of New Retrans Crossroads

Related: Retrans Ruckus

The pitched retrans battle between multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) and broadcasters has gotten even uglier, and extended to broadcasters’ push for the new ATSC 3.0 transmission standard.

Small and medium-size cable operators have told the FCC it should not let broadcasters start using the standard, in part because they say the commission needs to better gauge the impact on retrans fees of the transition to ATSC 3.0.

And, elsewhere, broadcast and cable groups traded new punches over the ongoing FCC review of good faith negotiations.

In comments to the FCC on the request by commercial and noncommercial TV stations to start broadcasting in the new format while simulcasting in the old—ATSC 3.0 is not compatible with current TV sets—the American Cable Association said the transition is more than simply flipping a switch, pointing out that most viewers are watching TV stations through an MVPD rather than over the air.

“Depending on how ATSC 3.0 is implemented, the transition could have a dramatic effect on small cable operators, requiring significant new capital outlays and reducing capacity on cable systems that could have been used for other programming or for broadband internet capacity,” said an ACA spokesperson.

ACA also suggests that broadcasters will try to pass along the costs of the ATSC 3.0 transition via retrans fees it charges MVPDs.

“The dysfunctional retransmission consent marketplace gives broadcasters significant leverage in negotiations with small cable operators—leverage amplified by legacy rules governing the market.

This means that, if the costs of this transition are allocated solely by the market, as broadcasters suggest, it is inevitable that these burdens will fall disproportionately on small cable operators,” an ACA spokesperson said. “But these are the very businesses that would be least able to absorb these costs.”

A coalition of commercial broadcasters, noncommercial broadcasters and technology companies last month asked the FCC to approve a voluntary, market-based rollout of the new television transmission standard.

Broadcasters want the FCC to move forward ASAP. But the ACA says it should proceed with caution and collect a lot more information on the impact first.

“It’s disappointing that ACA would use a retransmission consent ruse to fight broadcaster efforts to adopt Next Generation Television. We take Tom Wheeler at his word when he says he wants to move quickly on ATSC 3.0,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton.

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.