Moonves urges Wheeler to back off on retrans reform; NAB and Mediacom square off

Amid a communications offensive currently underway by broadcasters, CBS Corp. Executive Chairman Les Moonves met with Tom Wheeler Tuesday and asked the FCC chairman not to implement any new regulation in regard to broadcast retransmission. 

les moonves


Under mandate from Congress, the FCC is currently reviewing rules governing negotiations for retransmission licensing deals between pay-TV operators and programmers. At the heart of this review is the so-called "totality of circumstances" test -- what constitutes "good faith" negotiation and what doesn't.

MVPDs are lobbying to expand the list of "bad-faith" tactics to include such things as blackouts. There were a record 193 such blackouts in 2015, according to a Wall Street Journal tally.

Moonves and broadcasters are arguing that the current rules don't need to be changed. Indeed, retransmission fees are growing so fast, SNL Kagan had to revise its five-year projection upward last year by $400 million.

In an ex parte filing detailing Moonves' meeting with Wheeler, the CBS chief said pay-TV operators are simply "feeling the pain" of finally having to pay the freight for TV's top-rated channels, the broadcast networks.

Moonves' visit to Washington came as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) publicized a pungent response to a letter sent by Mediacom urging the FCC to act on its retrans review.

"In Mediacom World, broadcasters have all the power," the NAB said. "They can impose, or 'demand,' unilateral conditions on massive pay TV companies, and they gleefully pull their signals before extracting supra-competitive rents. It doesn't take much to recognize that Mediacom World is completely divorced from everyone else's reality."

"It is a fantasy that appears intended to arouse government sympathy and a shiny object designed to distract everyone, including their customers, from Mediacom's long list of customer service challenges," the lobbying org added. "As we noted in our comments, because broadcasters do not have undue bargaining power vis-à-vis pay TV providers, there is no reason for the Commission to even consider injecting itself into a quagmire of everyday negotiations between sophisticated business entities."

For more:
- read this CBS filing
- read this Broadcasting & Cable story
- read this NAB letter to the FCC

Related articles:
Cox reaches retrans deal with Nexstar, restores Super Bowl in Las Vegas
Retrans-related blackouts more than doubled to record 193 in 2015, report says
NCTA tells FCC to ban retrans-related blackouts of online content