Senate Bill Would Boost MVPD Control Over Its Content

The senate has passed a law that would give multichannel video programming distributors more control over TV-station and leased-access programming — a move that is drawing some fans in the House.

According to industry sources, some House members are considering backing a Senate authorization bill provision that would give MVPDs more leverage in special circumstances — those being when Russian-backed TV programming was involved — and more power to reject leased access programming. The legislation is written narrowly to apply only to Russian-backed content, rather than, say, Chinese or North Korean.

The provision, which was included in the National Defense Authorization Act passed by the Senate last month, says MVPDs cannot be compelled to carry TV station programming “owned, controlled or financed (in whole or in part) by the Government of the Russian Federation.”

A cable source said some broadcasters were concerned about the amendment as it provides precedent for content carveouts from retransmission consent, but the National Association of Broadcasters neither endorsed nor opposed the provision: “We know of no NAB member station carrying Russian TV as a result of a retransmission agreement with a pay TV provider,” it said in a statement.

The provision, introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), is tied to Congress’ ongoing concern about Russian influence on U.S. elections.

And while MVPDs are required to reserve channels and lease access to independent programmers regardless of content — except for indecent programming — the bill adds a new category, specifically regarding any programming paid for by Russia.

“Sex predators and Russians are two groups I would think you would not want to be backing,” said a cable source speaking on background. The first is a reference to the current debate over Hill efforts to stop sex trafficking over websites such as by making them liable — an effort that has drawn pushback from social media platforms fearing it could threaten self-posting sites in general.

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.