NAB Suggests Retransmission-Consent Changes

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Washington-The National Association of Broadcasters is calling on federal regulators to craft new retransmission-consent rules that would allow TV stations in one market to bargain collectively with the incumbent cable operator.

In a May 19 letter to the Federal Communications Commission on America Online Inc.'s merger with Time Warner Inc., the NAB said the lesson to be drawn from the carriage dispute between Time Warner Cable and The Walt Disney Co. was that TV stations need more, and not less, leverage against cable.

"The response to the AOL-TW merger should not be reconsideration of broadcasters' retransmission-consent rights, but instead steps to strengthen them, including a provision allowing broadcasters in a market to collectively negotiate with a monopsony cable operator," the NAB said in a six-page letter to FCC chairman William Kennard.

Monopsony refers to the market condition where there is effectively one buyer for video programming.

An FCC official said TV stations currently do not have permission to engage in collective bargaining with cable operators.

In 1996, the Department of Justice signed an antitrust consent decree with three TV stations-affiliates of ABC Inc., CBS Corp. and NBC-in Corpus Christi, Texas, which had bargained collectively with Tele-Communications Inc. (now AT & T Broadband).

The NAB said its comments were inspired by remarks at the National Show in New Orleans by Time Warner chairman and CEO Gerald M. Levin and National Cable Television Association president Robert Sachs that in light of the Time Warner-Disney dispute, lawmakers and regulators need to change or re-evaluate the operational aspects of retransmission consent.

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