Cohen: NBC Proxy Retrans Regime Could Be Part Of Solution To 'Bitter' Disputes

Comcast executive vice president David Cohen says that NBC's new proxy retrans approach to its affiliates might be one way to reduce the number of retrans wrangles and could become a model for the industry.

At a Media Institute lunch in Washington Wednesday Cohen, who heads up government affairs for the company, said that there were few "must" items on its Washington agenda, though a lot of issues it was interested in.

He did not initially volunteer retransmission consent as one of them -- the FCC is currently contemplating changes to -- but added it to the plate when asked.

"Retrans reform is on the agenda," he said. He called one of the big "struggles" with the issue authority and jurisdiction. The FCC has said its authority is limited to enforcing good faith negotiations, though cable operators have argued it has leeway within that mandate to act on things like standstill agreements and arbitration.

Comcast has a lot of skin in the game.

Cohen pointed out that Comcast--the largest cable operator--"probably will pay more retrans than anyone else," and as a programmer through NBCU, will also be a big recipient of whatever retrans is paid by Comcast or others.

Referring to the announcement at the NBC affiliates meeting Monday of the blanket retrans negotiation proposal, which was first reported by B&C, Cohen called it a ground-breaking relationship. "We actually think that is part of a solution for having rational negotiations between pay TV providers and a network and affiliates."

He said that if you look at some of the "bitter" disputes, they involve "splinter" groups, and "less rarely" involve the major providers. "We think the model that we are trying to work through with our affiliates could be part of the solution. It certainly is for our company and for the pay TV providers who are doing business with us."

Other issues on Comcast's Washington horizon are privacy, piracy and the FCC's pending all-vid proceeding. He said there remained a lot of work on broadband adoption. Among Comcast's pledged is to provide low-cost, high-speed broadband to low income homes. That will also include providing computers to those homes for $150 or perhaps cheaper.