NCTA on Retrans: It’s Comcastic

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WASHINGTON — When National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell recently said the group supported a fresh look at retransmission-consent reform and other outdated regulations, it drew some attention given the trade group’s history of treading cautiously on the issue.

The move wasn’t a seismic shift, but it was clearly an indication that the association, at the urging of the board, was getting off the sidelines and into the retrans game, if only focused on surgical strikes rather than scrapping the whole regime.

For example, the NCTA will most likely take aim at the basic tier, which includes broadcast TV stations. Some industry watchers feared pushback from cable operators with programming interests, whose differing views from other operator members accounts for the finessed retrans answers that are a long NCTA tradition.

The American Television Alliance, which boasts a number of NCTA members, has been taking the point on retrans, including the tough rhetoric and unalloyed support for reform bills.

The NCTA’s move was a recognition that its constituency is cable operators and programmers, and that while some of those operators have broadcast interests, they have their own association — the National Association of Broadcasters — to represent them.

And while some industry watchers were suggesting the NCTA’s move from the sidelines could signal a fracture in the association, similar to the 39% ownership cap issue that divided the NAB in the 1990s, Comcast countered with a vote of confidence.

Comcast, the largest NCTA member and one with TV-station holdings benefiting from the current retrans system, essentially gave its OK — more like conceding the political reality — to the NCTA’s more active role, while making the point that broadcasters needed to be able to invest in content.

In a statement last week, spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said: “Comcast/NBCUniversal and NCTA are aligned in our publicpolicy approaches.

“While there may sometimes be different public-policy approaches on particular issues between programmer and operator members of NCTA, all of NCTA’s members share a strong interest in growing the overall cable ecosystem.”

Fitzmaurice added that one of their mutual objectives was “ensuring that broadcasters remain incented to make future investments in content.”

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