Retrans: Same War, Different Front

There has been no FCC movement on the yearold retransmission consent proposal, but that hasn’t stopped the fight between cable operators and broadcasters from playing out on other stages, including the online political file and media ownership review.

Sinclair and Time Warner Cable, for example, squared off in the latest round of comments on the FCC’s review of media ownership rules. The issue is joint retrans negotiations, which cable operators are tying to joint operating agreements, as well as stations with multiple affiliations courtesy of their digital subchannels.

Sinclair says Time Warner Cable is only out to try to stifle competition and tabs the company as the real 800-pound gorilla in the deal. “Few broadcasters can withstand the pressures from cable giants who will ‘remove’ stations from their lineups without price ‘capitulation,’” Sinclair said in its filing.

Time Warner Cable fired back that Sinclair and other broadcasters are being disingenuous. The cable operator said broadcasters are looking to “aggregate market power that can be exploited through the retransmission consent process.” TWC also accused the Big Four networks of “reshuffling” affiliations where their incumbent stations refuse to give over a greater percentage of retrans fees to the network.

While each accuses the other of throwing out red herrings for the FCC to follow, the question remains whether the FCC will bite on either argument. So far, the agency does not appear eager to get into the battle.

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.