FCC Denies Challenges to Program Contract Access

The FCC has denied content companies objections to 245 individuals seeking to view programming contracts and other competitively sensitive documents submitted to the FCC as part of the reviews of the Comcast/time Warner Cable and AT&T/DirecTV merger reviews.

The FCC said that for 235 of them, the objections provided no basis for rejecting them. In the case of the other 10, which include Free Press and other nonprofits, the FCC said that the objection failed on definitional grounds.

The content companies had argued that the documents should only be viewable by outside counsel or consultants, bu the FCC said that outside counsel also applies to noncommercial entities not involved in decisionmaking--like negotiating programming contracts.

As a result, it said, those 10 should be able to view the contracts.

The FCC has modified the joint protective orders for the deal info to try and accommodate those content companies, which include CBS, Scripps Networks Interactive, Disney, Time Warner, Twenty First Century Fox, Univision and Viacom.

They had asked that contracts be reviewed at Justice, not the FCC, but the Commission denied that request and modified the order to add what it said were a unique combination of protections to exclude "competitive decisionmakers" from accessing the information. The FCC Tuesday also upheld those modifications.

On October 15, the companies, joined by Discovery and TV One, began challenging individually all those who sought to review highly confidential info, including those video programming contracts, under the FCC's modified order.

The bureau says most of those objections were not specific to the individual requests--more than 100 of them--but were instead a blanket effort to prevent any access to carriage deals.

Some commenters have accused the companies of trying to nullify the protective order by filing the multiple objections and say not having access to the contracts would hamper their evaluations of the applications.

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.