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ATVA: LIN/Dish Stand-Off Illustrates Need For Reform

The American Television Alliance, which comprises cable nets, satellite companies (including Dish) telcos, and others, used the opportunity of the LIN/Dish signal blackout to push for retrans reform.

LIN Media and Dish Network failed to reach a retransmission consent deal as of midnight March 4, following a four-day extension from the original March 1 deadline. That meant that more than two dozen LIN stations have gone dark for Dish subscribers.

"This comes less than 48 hours after the FCC approved initiation of a rulemaking "to protect consumers from the disruptive impact" of broadcaster blackouts. These bullying tactics will continue until the FCC reforms outdated rules and balances the scales that today give broadcasters numerous advantages," ATVA said in a statement.

The FCC last week voted unanimously to propose a number of changes to clarify what constitutes good faith negotiations in an effort to reduce viewer dislocations. It did not propose mandating carriage during impasses or imposing outside arbitration, both of which ATVA had asked for in the petition that helped prompt the FCC's action.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski referenced the LIN/Dish dispute to illustrate why the FCC was taking action. "Retransmission consent negotiations have become more contentious recently, and consumers have gotten caught in the middle," he said at the FCC's open meeting last week. "Last fall, millions of cable subscribers lost access to baseball playoff and World Series games, and many other viewers have been blindsided by less publicized disputes. Even as we vote this item, there's a looming retransmission consent impasse between a nationwide satellite TV provider and a large broadcast group with major network affiliates."

Broadcasters argue the vast majority of retrans deals are done quietly and without incident, and that retrans is a marketplace negotiation that needs no government thumb on the scale. Cable operators counter that the FCC has already intruded by mandating carriage for stations that elect not to negotiate (must-carry), and by imposing regs  like the syndicated exclusivity and network nonduplication rules that prevent cable operators from seeking competitive signals as an alternative. The FCC has proposed eliminating those rules, which broadcasters strongly oppose.