ACA: Retrans Abuse Getting Worse

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Abuse of cable operators by large corporations during retransmission-consent negotiations is getting worse in small and rural markets, according to a federal filing by the American Cable Association.

The ACA asked the Federal Communications Commission in October to launch an investigation into alleged corporate abuses.

In a supplemental complaint filed recently by the ACA, the trade group "named names" of media giants that it said are trying to foist unwanted or expensive networks on small system owners. Those companies approach cable systems with "take-it-or-leave-it" propositions for highly viewed broadcast networks the corporations also control.

In the complaint, the trade association targets The Walt Disney Co., detailing several markets in which owners have been told they must take SoapNet, Toon Disney or other Disney networks in order to retain carriage rights to Disney-owned ABC stations and affiliates.

The filing also stated that Disney is telling cable operators that don't launch one of its cable networks that they will have to pay a monthly 70-cent-per-subscriber fee for ABC TV stations as stand-alones.

News Corp. is also wielding its muscle in instances such as Los Angeles-area small systems, which have been told they must pay hefty fees and carry Fox's regional sports networks or risk losing Fox affiliate broadcast stations.

NBC and Hearst-Argyle Television Inc. are also among the big companies that show "brazen disregard for local needs and interests in smaller markets," according to the trade group's complaint.

"Small operators have been pushed to the brink by spiraling programming costs and tying arrangements," ACA president Matt Polka said in a prepared statement Monday. "The retransmission-consent abuse they are facing this round threatens a pervasive loss of broadcast signals in smaller markets."

He continued, "Our operators are making it clear to Disney, Fox, Hearst-Argyle and others that they will not force their customers to pay for costly terms of retransmission consent. They are ready to drop broadcast signals in market after market."

The new filing also stated that "affiliated programming entities" have taken control of retransmission-content rights formerly exercised by local broadcasters.