Quiet AT&T U-verse-CBS resolution an anomaly amid retransmission noise

Jim Barthold, FierceIPTVA group of golfing buddies and I were watching the latest PGA Tour event the other day when the announcer said something about the fact that Tiger Woods will soon become the first professional golfer to have earned $100 million in prize money.

Being a show-off, I mentioned that at the first Masters Tournament I covered as a golf writer, Fuzzy Zoeller walked off with $40,000 in winnings. That's right, there are only five figures there, folks--and the Masters had jacked up the jackpot that year.

My buddies--as old as or older than I--appreciated the detail, if not the ostentation, so I pushed a bit further.

"You know how Tiger's managed to make so much so fast?" I asked. "Because you paid him."

Even though none of these guys had been to a golf tournament, they weren't surprised that Tiger had been dipping into their pockets. They knew--as do most Americans--that television paid all that money to Tiger and that as Comcast, Dish and DirecTV subscribers, they paid television. They weren't happy about it--but thus far, they weren't unhappy enough to cut off their sports TV.

That's why the small news item that CBS and AT&T U-verse were able to sit down, negotiate through their wants and needs, and come up with a new retransmission consent agreement without pettiness, without flashing dire warnings on TV screens and without media screaming matches was more newsworthy than it might have seemed.

It didn't bring any more attention to a festering situation that's more likely to explode than settle down.

It took only three paragraphs for Variety to announce the deal, even repeating the comment from Martin Franks, executive vice president for planning, policy and government relations at CBS that the agreements "recognize the value our stations and our cable channels (broadcast, Showtime, Smithsonian Channel and CBS Sports Network) bring to AT&T's U-verse service and to the audiences we share."

Bland. Pleasant. Agreeable.

Totally out of character for most retransmission settlements, which increasingly raise the value-versus-price specter to a public level where consumers are bound to start to wonder what they get for what they pay.

Some of these battles get silly--as Jon Stewart blithely suggested when DirecTV and Viacom went to war. Some are both rancorous and confusing, like the ongoing stalemate between AMC Networks and Dish Networks. I don't subscribe to Dish, so I don't know what that satellite service has to say about it--I can't imagine it's anything good--but I do occasionally watch AMC's programming where I am reminded that its "not available on Dish."

That's a strange warning since I'm watching the programming and I don't subscribe to Dish so, frankly, I don't particularly care. If had Dish, I wouldn't know it was unavailable on Dish, because…well, it's not available on Dish.

This lingering hostility between service and content providers is becoming more apparent to the subscribers who are paying the bills. That is not a good thing for either party.

Subscribers are increasingly restive about the amounts of money that go out each month for their pay TV. They become even antsier when the information trickles through that the athletes they so love to watch are getting the big bucks from television and television is getting the big bucks from them. It's not just golfers--as my buddies well know; it's any professional athlete and many amateurs who are raking in money that most consumers wouldn't pay to attend a live sporting event.

Restive subscribers can attract the attention of vote-seeking politicians who, in turn, can get the attention of government regulatory bodies. When that mix bubbles into volatility, it won't be covered by a three-paragraph story in Variety; it will be worldwide front page news. It's just a matter of time if the Viacom-DirecTV, AMC-Dish disputes get more ink than the U-verse-CBS settlements. --Jim