CBS: Let Market Decide Pay TV Carriage

A pair of CBS executives has been making the rounds at the Federal Communications Commission urging regulators to let the market solve carriage disputes involving local TV stations and cable operators, satellite providers and other pay TV distributors, according to an industry source familiar with the CBS effort.

CBS is pitching a free-market approach on the heels of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s decision Jan. 6 to pull 22 stations from Mediacom Communications cable systems serving 700,000 subscribers in 13 states in one of the toughest cable retransmission-consent fights in many years.

The unresolved clash between Sinclair and Mediacom has involved the FCC, the federal courts and some members of Congress.

The CBS officials who have been visiting FCC offices include executive vice president of planning, policy and government relations Martin Franks and senior VP of regulatory policy Anne Lucey. CBS began lobbying on retransmission consent last November, just weeks after Mediacom filed an antitrust suit against Sinclair.

At the time, CBS said in a Nov. 30 FCC filing that although it had “no knowledge of the allegations in the Mediacom complaint … we urged the [FCC] -- in all proceedings involving a carriage dispute between a broadcaster and a multichannel-video-programming distributor -- to adhere to the principles of noninterference in retransmission-consent negotiations.”

CBS CEO Les Moonves stated last March that as his network’s current carriage deals expire, CBS will demand cash from big cable companies. Those deals, he added, start coming up for renewal in 2008.