Broadcast lockouts may have just begun

The stare-down between Cablevision and Disney in New York City was only the first skirmish of a developing hot war between broadcasters desperate for more income sources and cable operators desperate not to pay more for programming. Throw in a new government look at broadcast spectrum and you have the makings for a true in-the-trenches quagmire.

Disney, already a retransmission veteran, will probably go on the offensive with Time Warner Cable when its contracts with that operator expire later this year. TWC, like all cable operators already passing on increased programming expenses to an increasingly restless subscriber base, will find the notion of paying for what was free is nettlesome at best; broadcasters will position it as making MSOs pay as they do for cable networks.

There is also a wild card which very few have yet to acknowledge. Broadcasters have become so accustomed to putting their services on cable that many have not made an exceptional effort to fill coverage gaps that pocked their footprints after the digital transition. They figure as long as they reach cable, satellite and telco headends, their pictures will be seen. If the broadcasters don't efficiently use the spectrum they've been given by the FCC or if it's perceived there isn't enough over-the-air reception to make it worthwhile, that spectrum could be raffled off to fatten wireless operators. If that happens--and regulators are starting to rattle sabers--retransmission would take on a whole new aspect.

For more:
- see this fees story
- and this story on the stare-down
- and this story on spectrum allocation

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