Web Is New Battleground In Carriage Fights
Roll Over Or Get Tough… I Have Choices… Fighting 4 You… All sound like campaign slogans. And they are, but not for a political race: they are slogans used by cable companies and networks in more and more public battles over carriage agreements. This trend of launching a website to rally public opinion intensified in December, about a week before Time Warner’s and Fox’s agreement was about to expire. TWC launched RollOverOrGetTough.com, followed immediately by Fox’s KeepFoxOn.com. After the two sides reached a new deal on New Year’s Day, TWC’s site went dormant until the company reactivated it earlier this week as part of preparation for the upcoming standoff with Disney over ABC, ESPN, and other cable networks. (Their current agreement expires on September 2nd.) Disney’s response was a new site, IHaveChoices.com, which went live today, urging viewers in TWC markets to switch providers ahead of the Sept. 2 deadline.
This is the earliest I’ve seen companies involved in carriage negotiations start campaigning, a possible indication that the battle will be tough. For now, the two sides are actively talking with no signs of impasse. But they have checkered past (anyone remembers the ABC blackout on TWC systems during May sweep in 2000?) and the issue of retransmission consent fees for broadcast stations’ signal is a thorny one. In fact, also this week, TWC, along with most leading cable and satellite providers, telcos and a couple of cable channels announced the launch of American Television Alliance with the goal of putting pressure on the FCC to revise retransmission consent rules so stations can’t pull their signal if renegotiations fail. Not surprisingly, the only big cable or satellite operator missing from the list of partners in the alliance is Comcast, which is lying low as it is going through the process of regulatory approval for its proposed merger with NBC Universal. Somewhat surprisingly, pay cable network Starz is on.
With all that sabre-rattling, there was one carriage dispute story with a happy ending this week when Rainbow Media and AT&T U-Verse agreed on a new deal, keeping AMC and its upcoming season of Mad Men on for some 2.3 AT&T U-Verse subscribers. In its campaign, AT&T also used a Web site, Fighting4You.