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Moonves 'Broadcasters' Comment Draws Fire from ATVA

Cable operators in a pitched battle with broadcasters over retrans fees latched on to a comment attributed to CBS president Les Moonves at the Code Conference Wednesday.

“We're programmers. The term 'broadcasting' doesn't mean anything anymore," Moonves said, which was immediately used by the American Television Alliance to hammer the company, which has aggressively sought more retrans compensation as what Moonves considers fair value for TV stations that still provide the most popular programming viewed on cable.

"If CBS wants to be treated like every other channel, then by all means, they should surrender their spectrum back to the government and give up all their special government handouts like “must carry” and other regulatory advantages,” said ATVA spokesman Trent Duffy.

ATVA members include Charter, Time Warner Cable, Dish, DirecTV, telcos and many others.

"A foundational principle of federal communications law is that in exchange for free use of the public airwaves broadcasters agree to take actions that benefit the public. These principles are enshrined in the Radio Act of 1927 and the Communications Act of 1934, which mandate that broadcasters serve the public interest, convenience and necessity. Apparently, that’s news to CBS President and CEO Les Moonves."

But Duffy was just getting started.  

"As retransmission fees continue to skyrocket, local news and public interest programming is dying. Local stations are cutting back newsroom budgets and laying off reporters. There is only a 7 percent chance that a ‘local’ television station is actually locally owned. According to the FCC, 32% of local TV stations ‘did not air a single minute of news programming.’"

CBS declined comment, but ATVA's opposite number in the retrans battle, the broadcaster-backed TV Freedom, whose members include the National Association of Broadcasters and the CBS affiliate association, fired back.

“U.S. laws that protect and advance free and local broadcast TV are the sole remaining safeguard guaranteeing consumer access to this highly valued content,” spokesman Robert Kenny said. “These laws not only guarantee consumers free access to the lifeline and investigative reporting produced by local TV stations via a digital antenna, but they help ensure that broadcast TV content, including network programming, is available to consumers through traditional pay-TV subscriptions.

“If the American Television Alliance and its members were truly concerned about the best interests of consumers, they would refocus their efforts on lowering pay-TV customers’ bills and making all charges more transparent on monthly statements.”

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.