Moonves to Wheeler: Close Retrans Proceeding

CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves met with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Feb. 9 to argue that the FCC should take no action related to the definition of retransmission consent good faith negotiations, short of terminating the current proceeding altogether.

At the direction of Congress in the STELAR satellite legislation, the FCC is reviewing the "totality of circumstances" test for what constitutes good faith. Some MVPDs want the FCC not only to add to the list of those circumstances, but make some actions--like blackouts--de facto bad faith. Broadcasters argue what isn't broke doesn't need fixing.

Congress did not require any fixes.

According to a document summarizing the meeting filed by CBS with the FCC Wednesday (Feb. 10), Moonves, who has been a leading force in broadcaster efforts to get more money for their high-value content, told Wheeler; his media advisor, Jessica Almond; and General Counsel Jonathan Sallet that there were two main reasons to close the proceedings.

1) He said that as long as they are open, pay-TV providers will use that as an excuse not to negotiate in "genuinely good faith" with broadcasters in hopes of having the FCC rescue them from what Moonves characterized as a new experience for them: The rough and tumble of the marketplace."

2) Moonves said the biggest reason not to start tinkering with the regime is that for the first time since it was created in the 1992 Cable Act, "the consumer is the winner" because of access to the highest quality and greatest quantity of TV ever, for free, over-the-air.

He said MVPD complaints to policymakers about retrans don't mean they have less leverage, but that they are finally "feeling the pain" of competition.

Wheeler has signaled his related proposal to eliminate the exclusivity rules--which did not gain traction with the other commissioners--could be revived as part of this proceeding.

He had circulated the proposal to the other commissioners, but soon got major pushback from both Republican and Democratic legislative leaders.

Moonves called them low-maintenance regs the FCC was considering scrapping while at the same time contemplating adding new retrans regs that would expend FCC energy overseeing and enforcing negotiations better left to the marketplace.

Moonves suggested that new retrans regs that tipped the balance against broadcasters could diminish or stifle CBS's incentive to produce and invest in high-quality content.

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.