FCC Wants More Data On News Retrans Deals

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The Federal Communications Commission is seeking additional information from News Corp. regarding the company's possible effort to strike cable and direct-broadcast satellite carriage deals for independent affiliates of its Fox broadcast network.

The latest request came in connection with News Corp.'s FCC application to take operational control of DBS provider DirecTV Inc. in a $6.6 billion deal that has raised warning signs for several cable companies.

In an Oct. 31 letter, the FCC asked News Corp. to respond to a series of questions, including whether the company retains the right to negotiate cable and DBS carriage deals on behalf of non-owned Fox affiliates, and whether the company has actually negotiated for affiliates. If it has done the bargaining, News Corp. was asked to produce copies of each agreement.

News Corp. was also asked whether it "ever solicited or required" independent Fox affiliates to demand that cable operators or DBS operators carry News Corp. cable networks as barter for access to the TV signals. If such deals exist, the FCC asked to see details, including whether News Corp. compensated Fox affiliates for seeking carriage of the cable networks.

The FCC has an informal 180-day merger-review period. The agency suspended the News Corp.-DirecTV merger clock on Oct. 10, when it made a second information request to News Corp. and DirecTV parent Hughes Electronics Corp.

The agency appears to be responding to cable-industry concerns that News Corp., owner of 35 local Fox TV stations, would use control of DirecTV to require cable companies to pay more for access to Fox broadcasting and cable programming. Cable operators that lost access to the programming because they refused to pay higher fees insist that News Corp. would promote that programming on DirecTV to take cable subscribers and pressure cable companies.

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