WASHINGTON — Cable operators have gotten some help from a powerful senator in their effort to get the Federal Communications Commission to dig deeper into the impact of shared-services agreements, joint sales agreements and other broadcast partnerships.
The support came in a letter from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) advising the FCC to wait before approving some big broadcast deals.
The American Cable Association, which represents smaller, independent cable operators, has been leading the charge — with an assist from Time Warner Cable — to get the FCC to disallow the collective retransmission negotiations that often go hand in glove with the TV station shared-services agreements (SSAs).
Recent so-called “super group” deals — for example, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s deal to purchase seven Allbritton Communications stations and Gannett’s acquisition of Belo — have included station spinoffs to comply with FCC localownership rules. But Sinclair and Gannett are providing services to the spun off stations that the ACA and others call an attempt to skirt the FCC’s limits on local and national ownership and allow those companies to continue to exercise control, particularly over retransmission talks.
In his letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, Rockefeller said he thinks the commission should delay decisions on recent broadcast mergers — including Sinclair’s purchases, Gannett- Belo and others — until the federal Government Accountability Office has completed a report on the use of shared services agreements.
He also asked the FCC to look at use of the shared-services agreements by those potential merged broadcast partners as it considers the deals, making sure to collect the necessary information to understand their effects on competition and consumers.
Cable operators have asked the FCC to factor in the use of SSAs to skirt local ownership limits and coordinate retransmissionconsent negotiations.
So far, the FCC’s Media Bureau has declined to get into the issue, pointing to an open proceeding that began under former chairman Julius Genachowski that was considering making some sharing agreements attributable as ownership interests.
CALLED ON GAO
Rockefeller in May asked the GAO to look into SSAs, particularly in situations where full ownership would violate media limits.
Rockefeller said he was not taking a position on any deals currently in the pipeline. He wants the FCC to proceed with caution and said it “may be wise for the FCC to wait to approve any pending transaction that involves SSAs or related arrangements until GAO has completed its study and issued its report.”
Rockefeller did not say when that might be.
In a follow-up letter to Wheeler, the ACA said it was all for waiting for the GAO report, and suggested that the best way for the FCC to collect more data would be to handle the merger reviews at the commission level, rather than within the Media Bureau.
Cable operators wary of TV stations using shared-service agreements to collectively bargain for retransmission consent may have gotten some help from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).