RFD-TV Fans Flood Comcast/TWC Deal Docket

The FCC is getting a bumper crop of comments of fans calling for it to insure that keeping RFD-TV on Time Warner Cable and adding it to Comcast are part of conversation as it vets the proposed merger of the two.

A check of the FCC docket on the deal shows scores of new comments from fans of the rural channel, whose carriage has also come up in hearings on the proposed AT&T/DirecTV deal. Those comments range from those who like to "wake up to the sounds of tractors and the farm reports," to fans of Hee-Haw re-runs to those who say its programming is a refuge from the "garbage" on elsewhere.

It was unclear how many came from people who are in Comcast's footprint. One comment talked about receiving the channel on Dish and another on their telco provider.

TWC carries the channel, but Comcast has dropped it from some of its mostly urban and suburban systems.

Patrick Gottsch, founder of independent programmer RFD-TV, told Congress in a May hearing on the deal that Comcast's move to drop the network in a couple of states appeared to be to favor its own content and that Comcast should reverse that decision as well as carry the channel in HD as well as standard. His message was straightforward: Restore and expand RFD carriage.

Gottsch has been trying to get his viewers to lobby the FCC to preserve the channel, setting up a button on his home page to make it as easy as possible.

A Comcast source told B&C/Multi at the time that the company had legitimate business reasons for reducing RFD carriage, including lack of demand for the channel in mostly urban and suburban markets and the need to reclaim bandwidth for HD channels and advanced services, but there is also a sense that what comes down could also go up.

At that hearing with Gottsch, witness David Cohen, executive VP of Comcast and in charge of getting the deal past regulators, said the reduction was primarily a bandwidth issue and that Comcast local systems made the decision that carrying networks like Smithsonian Channel in HD was a better use of bandwidth. But he also pointed out that Comcast's systems were mostly in urban clusters. That seemed to hit a hot button, with several legislators responding they were worried rural viewers would be marginalized. But he also said the move was not necessarily permanent.

"Comcast continues to carry RFD-TV in numerous systems and only reduced its carriage in a limited number of areas for legitimate business reasons," a Comcast spokesperson said Monday (July 28) when asked about the wealth of comment from RFD-TV fans. "When deciding which channels to add to our cable line-up, or when making other carriage and distribution decisions for existing channels, we consider a wide mix of business factors.  These typically include our best judgment of whether current and prospective customers will value the programming; how carriage of the programming will affect costs, and, relatedly, customers’ monthly rates; whether there is sufficient available bandwidth for the additional programming; and other potential uses of the bandwidth.  In the limited number of systems where we no longer carry RFD-TV, local leadership weighed these factors and found that other uses of limited bandwidth would offer customers more value.

"We continue to carry many other channels that feature rural lifestyle and entertainment throughout our systems, including Colorado and New Mexico.

FamilyNet, another channel owned by the same company as RFD-TV has seen a significant gain in carriage from Comcast in the past two years. In fact we’ve doubled their carriage.”

AT&T has signaled that it could add RFD-TV to U-Verse if the FCC approves its deal with DirecTV, which carries the channel.

The FCC has opened a docket on the AT&T/DirecTV deal (14-90) but has not yet set a comment schedule or started its informal 180-day shot clock on review.

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.