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Cablevision Proposes Cash and Carry Retrans Regime

Cablevision wants the FCC to require broadcasters to negotiate only cash payments for their signals. That would be a 180-degree turn-around from the early days of retrans, when most cable operators didn't want to pay cash and instead made deals that involved some form of non-cash compensation, often carriage of additional, co-owned cable channels.

In its comments to the FCC on its own petition to reform the retrans regime--it was among a bakers dozen of signatories to the petition--Cablevision recommends three steps toward "standardizing and stabilizing" the system. One of them is the cash-only proposal, without which the operator says rates cannot be fairly evaluated or compared.

The operator wants the FCC to prohibit broadcasters from accepting any form of payment other than cash, then make them disclose that price.

That would mean not only prohibiting tying retrans to carriage of co-owned channels, say, an ABC station and Disney Channel or an NBC station and Weather channel, but any other form of non-cash payment, which could include anything from agreeing to buy ad time on the station, or providing equipment or service like a fiber link or cell service for station personnel, or carrying a multicast channel or two. "The deals are often quite complicated," said one attorney who negotiates them.

Cablevision also says broadcasters should not be allowed to charge different--operators would say discriminatory--rates to different MVPDs in the same market.

Cable operators have been something of a victim of their own success, agreeing to carry co-owned cable channels as part of retrans deals, which gave those channels the exposure they needed to become successful, then charge operators more for their channels, which has ultimately emboldened broadcasters to seek more for theirs.

As one of the petitioners, Cablevision also wants the FCC to mandate independent arbitration for retrans impasses and standstill agreements so TV signals can't be pulled during that arbitration. But like other petitioners, including the American Cable Association, it wanted to add its own particular issues and proposed solutions to the docket.

ACA, for example, also wants the FCC to address differential pricing and broadcasters leveraging duopolies and joint-services-agreements for more retrans market power, two issues, like the cash-only proposal, that were not addressed in the original petition.