Policy

Time Warner Cable Helps Establish Retrans' Critics Coalition

7/14/2010 11:56 AM Eastern

Retransmission-consent critics, led by Time Warner Cable, have formed ATVA, the American Television Alliance, billing it as giving voice to consumers.

The announcement confirmed a Multichnanel News blog post about the formation of the alliance.

"The mission of the new coalition...is to ensure consumers are not harmed -- or their favorite shows held hostage -- in negotiations for carriage of broadcast programming," said the group in a statement.

The coalition features virtually all of the backers of a petition to get the FCC to step in to require arbitration and standstill agreements during retransmission impasses, and comes as Time Warner is trying to negotiate a new carriage deal with Disney.

The petition, filed last March, came in the wake of a high-profile retrans impasse between Time Warner Cable and Fox last December, and the more recent standoff between Cablevision and Disney-owned WABC-TV in New York.

"We've come together because we all recognize that consumers aren't getting a fair shake from broadcasters, and face an unfair choice: Pay more for their favorite programs, or have them taken away," said American Cable Association president Matt Polka in a statement Wednesday. "Working together with this diverse coalition, we're going to fight hard to make sure viewers have a voice and Congress or the FCC addresses this important problem."

The coalition is an eclectic one that includes Cablevision, Verizon, Dish Network, AT&T U-verse, ACA, Public Knowledge, the Parents Television Council and Starz, among more than two dozen others.

Perhaps AT&T and Cablevision are the strangest bedfellows, given that the two are in the midst of their own carriage battle over AMC and other of Cablevision's Rainbow Media channels.

"Rainbow Media and its parent company Cablevision are threatening to take AMC, IFC and WE tv channels away from AT&T U-verse TV customers," said AT&T in a statement only an hour or so before the coalition released its statement about the threats of broadcast programmers pulling channels.

 

"This is an apples to oranges comparison," Cablevision said in a statement. "Retransmission fees are a scheme by the big broadcasters to extract billions from American consumers. Rainbow's matter relates to a private dispute over cable carriage fees which, as everyone knows, cable networks have always received from distributors. One has nothing to do with the other."

According to ATVA's mission statement, its goal: "[T]o give consumers a voice and ask lawmakers to protect consumers by reforming outdated rules that do not reflect today's marketplace. We are united in our determination to achieve our goal: ensure the best viewing experience at an affordable price, without fear of television signals being cut off or public threats of blackouts intended to scare and confuse viewers."

The coalition effort includes a Web site topped with pictures of happy families apparently gathered around un-blacked-out sets.

"The notion that Time Warner and its Big Pay TV allies are part of a group designed to protect consumers' is about as credible as BP executives joining Greenpeace," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton. "Pay TV built its business on the backs of broadcast programming, and it is not unreasonable for local TV stations to expect fair compensation for the most-watched shows on television. The ultimate irony is that big pay TV was against government intervention before it was for it, as evidenced by their continued opposition to net-neutrality rules."