The Little Engine That Did

American Cable Association members are gathering in Washington this week on a roll. The retrans docket, which has been lying fallow for years, is finally getting some action. TV station sharing arrangements, which ACA has been telling everyone within earshot were a way to skirt ownership caps and allow stations to unfairly gang up at retrans renewal time, are being reigned in.

ACA had help from others in the American Television Alliance and at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, but it has been the lead dog, and this dog does hunt.

Cases in point.

Sept 13, 2013. The American Cable Association asks the FCC to deny Sinclair’s purchase of Allbritton’s stations or put conditions on it. ACA said it involved virtual duopolies that would be nominally owned by a third party but controlled by Sinclair through sharing arrangements that allowed Sinclair to coordinate retrans negotiations.

March 6, 2014. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler signals that his March 31 ownership item will include not only limiting joint Sales agreements, but also preventing coordinated retrans among the Top Four stations in a market. In a background call with reporters, ACA data was cited to help buttress that decision.

March 12, 2014. The FCC’s Media Bureau announces new guidelines on reviews of station deals involving sharing agreements with associated financial arrangements, like purchase options or shared lenders, signaling approval would be an uphill climb unless they could be proved to be arm’s length deals. The move was widely believed to be aimed, at least in part, at Sinclair.

March 20, 2014. Citing the Media Bureau’s new guidelines and the need for FCC action before a summer trigger for unwinding the deal absent a decision, Sinclair restructures its Allbritton station purchase so that the stations spun-off to get under ownership limits will be to independent third parties with which it has no financial ties and for which it will provide no sharing arrangements.

Take a bow.

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.