No major cable operator hates paying broadcasters for the right to retransmit their free over-the-air programming more than Cablevision. Last year, it allowed ABC and Fox stations to go dark on Cablevision systems while trying to hammer out payment deals. So it’s interesting to see the three-point plan that Cablevision submitted to the FCC today to ensure that subscribers aren’t deprived from seeing the Oscars or the World Series while companies work out their differences.
First, it wants regulators to prevent broadcasters from packaging their services in a way that would require pay TV services to carry cable channels they don’t want in order to land programming from a must-have network such as ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. Second, if the cable operator can’t strike a deal with a network’s local station, then Cablevision wants the freedom to cut deals that would enable it to import signals from out-of-market network affiliates. And, third, Cablevision wants to be able to publicize the fees that broadcasters want.
“Consumers are the ones who are harmed when broadcasters pull or threaten to pull their networks from cable systems,” Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge says.
Sound like a consumer-friendly plan? “I guess the answer is ‘maybe,’ ” says Media Access Project Policy Director Andy Schwartzman. He says it’s “unclear” whether the FCC has the right to tell network owners how to sell their channels. Also, giving pay TV services the opportunity to import signals from out-of-market network affiliates “could have an adverse effect on localism,” he says.
Cable and satellite companies say that consumers will end up bearing the brunt of broadcasters’ growing efforts to receive cash for their over-the-air transmissions. Pay TV operators will pay $3.6 billion for these deals in 2017, up from $1.1 billion last year, research firm SNL Kagan estimated this week.