Indie Channels Push For Retrans Action

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Representatives of independent cable nets were in Washington Thursday to ask the Federal Communications Commission to launch a proceeding revamping the retransmission-consent process.

According to an e-mail from American Television Alliance members Outdoor Channel, Starz, Africa Channel, Retirement Living TV and the Gospel Movie Channel, they signed on to a letter calling on Congress to urge the FCC to step in, citing recent statements by CBS executives that keeping retrans payments from coming out of consumers' pockets would be to lower the payments to non-broadcast affiliated networks.

They argued those comments "vividly illustrate" the need for reform.

The independent channels, part of the coalition that was launched by cable, satellite, telcos and others to push for retrans reform, said that making such networks fund their broadcast competitors by bearing the retrans costs would be a "direct assault" on independent programmers and a threat to the public-interest benefit of a diversity of voices.

They averred that broadcasters already have "special government-granted privileges" like must-carry and basic-tier guarantees that independent cable programmers don't, and can bundle their co-owned channels into carriage deals, citing the recent Walt Disney Co./Time Warner Cable agreement that included carriage of Disney Junior and ESPN 3D, among others.

"We ask you strongly to urge the FCC to undertake a review of its outdated rules," concluded the letter, copies of which were sent to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees.

The FCC has been asked to open a rulemaking into changes to the retrans system, including keeping TV signals on cable and satellite systems during impasses and creating an outside arbitration system. The issue of unbundling of TV stations from cable channels negotiations has also been raised.

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