It is time to bind up the retransmission reform battle wounds, though given that the issue involves billions of dollars and tough negotiations, don’t look for anyone to be singing “Kumbaya” anytime soon.
The FCC has decided not to insert itself into retransmission consent disputes or at least not to expand its presence in the marketplace unless absolutely necessary.
We think that was the right call.
The FCC has long been reluctant to get into the middle of marketplace negotiations. To require broadcasters to keep their signals on multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) past contract expirations would have clearly weakened their hand in negotiations, as would have prohibitions on bundling channels in re-trans negotiations, as cable operators sought.
As the FCC pointed out, if Congress wants to weigh in to change the law, the agency is free to do so. But Congress only asked the FCC to review its “totality of circumstances” test for re-trans negotiations.
The commission did, and chairman Tom Wheeler concluded that nothing was broken, or sufficiently compromised, that needed fixing.
Channel blackouts are clearly an inconvenience to viewers when they happen, but there is no lack of video content in the marketplace from a variety of sources.
Wheller still does not like blackouts, and he has signaled the FCC will step in if necessary to make sure that negotiations are on the up and up, which is as it should be. In fact, the agency already has taken action in the case of Dish and Tribune.
Whatever the reason for the chairman’s decision—political pragmatism, the lack of three votes, the need to concentrate on a full plate of issues he wants to act on before exiting—broadcasters, including the National Association of Broadcasters and TV Freedom, won a big victory in a bruising battle.
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