Retransmission Consent
The Guild files with the FCC supporting broadcasters’ fair compensation for content, much of which is created by WGA members. Our message to Congress and the FCC: don't change the rules.  

By John Vezina, WGAW Political Director

(October 3, 2013) 

Although it was the dog days of August, when fewer Americans are watching broadcast television, a real life drama had consumers angry, members of Congress calling on the Federal Communications Commission to act, and two major corporations airing television commercials against each other. The issue: retransmission consent – in this case, CBS withholding its broadcast signal from Time Warner Cable (TWC) in three of the latter’s biggest markets, New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas, as well as access to programming available on CBS.com. With the new football season and fall programming approaching, many TWC customers were worried about how long they’d be blocked from CBS’ popular programming.

In 1992, Congress enacted the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act. The Act prohibits cable and satellite programming distributors from retransmitting a broadcast station’s signal without the station’s consent. With the power of cable and satellite companies growing, Congress recognized the importance of protecting broadcasters in the distribution of programming. In 2012, the four largest programming distributors provided service to 68 percent of all subscribers, up from 50 percent in 2002.

The contracts between broadcasters and Multichannel Video Programming Distributors (MVPDs) are constantly expiring and being renegotiated. Most of these negotiations are completed before expiration of the previous contract, attracting little to no public attention. Occasionally however, as happened between CBS and TWC in August, the two sides cannot agree on fair compensation for a broadcaster’s programming, including new rights to online and on demand program availability. When this occurs the broadcaster must decide whether to continue providing their content while negotiations continue, or to cease sending its signal to the MVPD in question. This decision, which strongly impacts consumers and their ability to watch the programming they choose, is key to a television network’s negotiating leverage. It is worth noting that if a broadcast station stops sending the signal to an MVPD, viewers can still access the network using an antenna.

Over the past decade television has been transformed from the linear network feed to a myriad of viewing options. MVPDs would like to offer subscribers on demand, online, and in and out of home viewing options. These new offerings provide tremendous value to MVPDs and broadcast networks have a right to seek fair compensation for their content, much of which is created by WGA members. While understanding the frustration television viewers feel when they can’t access their favorite shows, the solution to these complex negotiations is not to limit what broadcasters can do to negotiate a fair deal.

This is the position the WGAW has made in filings with the Federal Communications (FCC) and in meetings with members of Congress. Because of the recent CBS v. TWC blackout, Congress is taking a renewed interest in possibly changing retransmission consent rules, changes that would end broadcasters’ right to withhold their programming and with it, their leverage in negotiations. No programmer should be forced to send its signal to an MVPD without fairly negotiated compensation. We will continue to work to maintain the current rules.

Read the Guild’s FCC filing on retransmission consent and our position paper to members of Congress.  

 

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