DirecTV: Strong, But Not Strong Enough

DirecTV tells the FCC that it has become a stronger competitor to cable and other multichannel video providers, but not as strong as it could be if it were not hampered in its ability to obtain programming at reasonable rates, including by network-affiliated TV stations, it argues, abuse their market power.

It asked the commission to continue to exercise its authority to deter the untoward exercise of that power.

That came in comments on the FCC's 14th video competition report, for which it is collecting input from the industry.
Echoing comments from smaller cable operators, the satellite operator cited hikes in restransmission consent fees as an obstacle to those reasonable rates.

It said that network affiliates have "recently become even more aggressive in asserting their market power," a reference to the increasing demands for cash from network station groups citing the value of their signals in channel lineups. It is a point DirecTV concedes, saying "network programming remains among the most valuable on television," but the satellite company ascribes the rise in retrans fees to tougher economic times, declining revenues, and the ability to play more MVPD's against one another."

DirecTV wants the commission to make sure that programing is available at a "reasonable price," without interruption and that stations carry "sufficient" local content.

The satellite operator also took aim at cable operators, saying they use anticompetitive strategies like the "terrestrial loophole" to withhold affiliated programming from competitors. (Channels delivered via satellite to cable operators must be made available to competitors, but terrestrially-delivered networks like regional sports nets, are under no such obligation according the FCC's current reading of the law, though that is currently the subject of a review by the FCC).

DirecTV said that, despite satellite's sub gains, cable operators continue to hold a "disproportionate share" of subs, and can offer bundled services like broadband. DirecTV is looking for ways to do the same, but does not yet have anything comparable, it argues.

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.