Small, rural-focused RFD-TV becomes force amid merger approvals

It's a small rural cable network, reaching about 40 million pay TV providers across the U.S., and focused on "bluegrass bands, farming news and Hee Haw reruns." (Hat tip, Philadelphia Daily News.)

But with federal lawmakers concerned about the impact on specific consumer groups caused by two major pay-TV industry mergers, RFD-TV has suddenly assumed a rather outsized influence.

Patrick Gottsch, founder of Rural Media Group, which controls RFD-TV, says a recent call to arms on his company's website has resulted in 18,000 petitions filed to the Federal Communications Commission, voicing their concerns about the pending mergers between Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC), and AT&T (NYSE: T) and DirectTV (NASDAQ: DTV).

AT&T has already told regulators at the Department of Justice and FCC that RFD-TV will have a better shot at carriage on its U-verse video service should its $49 billion deal gain approval.

But Gottsch, who has met with FCC commissioners to discuss the mergers and hired a lobbyist, seems more focused on Comcast, which pulled RFD-TV off its services in Colorado in New Mexico 11 months ago, citing low viewership.

In a May hearing with congressional lawmakers, Comcast executive David Cohen responded to grilling about the decision to drop RFD-TV by noting, "If RFD-TV is sufficiently important for [subscribers], they can switch to Dish or DirecTV in those markets … We are an urban-clustered cable company."

Speaking to the Philadelphia Daily News earlier this week, Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice tried to frame Cohen's remarks in a less inflamatory context. "In the limited number of systems where we no longer carry RFD-TV, local leadership weighed these factors and found that other uses of limited bandwidth would offer customers more value," she said.

On the Rural Media Group page directing subscribers to file an FCC petition, Gottsch says he is not opposed to the mergers. But he did tell the Daily News, "You got television executives who don't seem to look out the window between Philadelphia and Hollywood."

For more:
- read this Philadelphia Daily News story

Related links:
Comcast ready for another grilling, this time from House Judiciary Committee
Comcast pulls RFD-TV from systems in Colorado, New Mexico
Dish shops $5 monthly Heartland Package