Skip to main content

Kerry: Fox/Cablevision Deal Is Relief, But...

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said Sunday he was
"happy and relieved" that Cablevision and Fox had struck
a carriage deal Saturday, but that he still thought the government needs
to step in to protect consumers.

Kerry has proposed legislation to that effect, and
signaled that he still thinks it is necessary. While he said that media
interests have every right to play hardball, he also suggested that government
needed to step in anyway to protect consumers from being collateral damage in
what he called "frequent games of high stakes chicken."

Saying he didn't think it was in anyone's interest to have
such retrans stalemates play out regularly, Kerry suggested that, "at a minimum, Congress can bring greater
transparency to this process and empower consumers with more information, and
work to disincentivize high stakes conflict."

Cablevision lost
access to Fox TV station signals for two weeks during the latest such standoff.

"What I know is that this system is broken,
and I think we're all better off if we have a dialogue about systemic reform
and modernizing the law rather than just jumping into the fray and getting
involved in each conflict in isolation," Kerry said, adding that he would
work with the FCC and stakeholders on a bill.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who has expressed
his own frustration with the consumer fallout from the Fox/Cablevision impasse,
Friday said he agreed with Kerry that it was time for Congress to take a lookat the retrans regime.

Kerry had plenty of company in suggesting the
Fox/Cablevision deal should not signal a stand-down in the push
for retrans reform.

"Fox demonstrated that federal retransmission
consent rules encourage broadcasters to harm consumers by adopting a ‘blackmail
or blackout' strategy intended to wrest excessive cash compensation from local
cable operators," said American Cable Association President Matt Polka.
"ACA commends Federal Communications Commission Chairman
Julius Genachowski and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), among others, for
recognizing that Fox's 15-day blackout of 3 million Cablevision customers in
the New York City market was the last straw and that Congress must step in..."

"We are pleased that consumers in the New York
City area and in Philadelphia will be able to watch programming on the Fox
channels, including the World Series and entertainment shows," said Public
Knowledge President Gigi Sohn. "However, we worry that the lack of action
and involvement from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not
portend well for consumers. Knowing that there was no pressure on the
broadcaster to lower its demands, Cablevision conceded defeat, while claiming
that they are paying too much for programming."

Cablevision asked the FCC to step in to mandate
arbitration and put station signals back on the air during negotiations, but
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski advised them to reach their own deal.

Cablevision, ACA and Public Knowledge are all
members of the American Television Alliance (ATVA), a coalition of cable
operators, satellite carriers, telcos and others pushing the FCC to modify
its retrans rules, which they say favor broadcasters.

ATVA minced no words in its reaction to the deal. "News Corp
deserves no credit for ending its two week blackout of 3 million Cablevision
households during the baseball playoffs and World Series and even bullying
consumers by cutting off access to major websites," the group said in a
statement. "The only way to guarantee broadcasters can't hold up viewers
for ransom as a negotiating tool is for Congress and the FCC to change outdated