The FCC is getting set to take a small step toward tackling the thorny problem of retransmission consent disputes. Prior to today’s monthly FCC meeting, the Commission adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on the topic.
Retransmission consent rules require pay-TV providers such as cable companies, satellite TV providers and telecom companies that provide cable-like offerings to carry local broadcast TV stations. The pay-TV providers must compensate the broadcasters for retransmission rights, and those negotiations can be challenging, as the pay-TV providers have no leverage to walk away from the deal.
Pay-TV provider customers have in many cases lost the ability to watch certain TV content when parties have not been able to reach carriage agreements in a timely fashion. These ‘blackouts’ have become increasingly common over the past few years. Rising retransmission costs have also contributed to a challenging business case for pay-TV in general. Some traditional pay-tv providers are choosing to exit the business entirely.
FCC Retransmission Consent Dispute Resolution
The NPRM seeks to clarify certain aspects related to the statute of limitations involving program carriage disputes and any review of decisions about program carriage disputes made by an FCC administrative law judge (ALJ). The NPRM proposes that in cases where a pay-TV provider has denied or failed to acknowledge a request for program carriage, the statute of limitations is triggered by that action, rather than by a notice of intent to file a complaint on that basis.
It also proposes to harmonize the review process of ALJ decisions regarding program carriage, program access and certain other complaints with other commission review procedures. The goal would be to make procedures more consistent and to encourage the timely resolution of various types of retransmission consent disputes, the FCC said in a press release.
In a separate NPRM, the FCC seeks to modernize procedures for determining whether a TV station outside a pay-TV provider’s primary broadcast market is “significantly viewed” by people in the market who watch TV over the air. Without that designation, pay-TV providers are not allowed to carry stations from broadcast networks such as ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox if the provider already carries a station affiliated with that network in its primary broadcast market.
The commission notes that current procedures may be outmoded and may even be impossible to follow, as the required data about over-the-air viewership may no longer be commercially available.
Some stakeholders have suggested that pay-TV providers should be allowed to obtain broadcast network content from stations outside their primary broadcast market as a means of obtaining greater leverage with local broadcasters. The NPRM wouldn’t open up this possibility, however, as it wouldn’t eliminate the requirement to carry local stations, even if an out-of-market station carrying the same network content was deemed to be “significantly viewed” in the pay-TV provider’s service area.