My Turn

Martin's a Riot

11/12/2007 2:30 AM

Kevin Martin’s calling cable television too powerful, and in need of more regulation, could make cable operators laugh if they weren’t already crying.

The Federal Communications Commission chairman’s timing is perfectly awful. Cable stocks are in a freefall over basic subscriber losses and rising competitive threats. Phone company multichannel video distribution is growing. DirecTV is in a huge acquisition campaign built around a plethora of high-definition channels.

Now is when Martin apparently wants to claim cable has 70% of the multichannel video market (homes that can get cable), giving the FCC powers to cap big operators or force carriage of certain channels. A time when cable subscribers appear to be on the decline while satellite TV continues to grow, and telco video becomes a bigger option.

Why, because Big Ten Network and NFL Network aren’t on every basic cable system?

Too bad the facts don’t bear him up, much less the competitive trends.

Craig Moffett of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. said in a research note Monday his firm figures “cable penetration of cable-available homes is between just 50 and 54%. We don’t believe any study could conceivably satisfy the 70/70 rule.”

Moffett goes on to note Martin’s steady string of rulings that go against cable industry interests: on set-top security, on carriage of multiple TV signals from broadcasters, on franchising and on contracts with apartment building owners.

While the impact of Martin’s rulings has been mixed, Moffett notes, “this latest development makes clear that the Chairman remains strongly disposed against cable, and appears increasingly to be turning his agenda towards open campaign against the industry.”

He might even make cable operators seem sympathetic with moves like this one.

That would make lots of people laugh.

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