LAS VEGAS--Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS, said on Tuesday that the Federal Communications Commission should not intervene in the process that Congress established two decades ago for cable companies and others to negotiate fees with broadcasters for the use of their programming.
“This is something the FCC should stay out of. It’s not their battle,” Moonves said during a discussion with National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith at the NAB's annual convention.
“For many years, we weren’t getting paid by cable operators. [And] they weren’t complaining to the FCC," Moonves said. He added, however, that now that broadcasters are receiving compensation for their programming, cable companies and other multichannel video-programming distributors have called on the FCC to intervene to fix what they say is a broken process.
The issue has gained new attention in the past year after retransmission disputes led to limited blackouts in some markets, most notably in October when some Cablevision viewers in New York lost television coverage of the World Series on Fox.
Cable companies and other multichannel video-programming providers succeeded in persuading the FCC to open a proceeding last month to examine the retransmission-consent issue. They argue that the process is tilted in favor of broadcasters, which are abusing their position by doubling the fees in some cases.
Cable and satellite companies want the FCC to require broadcasters to allow multichannel video-programming providers to carry broadcaster programming during the negotiation process and to require mandatory arbitration.
Steve Friedman, chairman of the American Cable Association, said at a Washington policy conference on Monday that his group is pleased that the “FCC finally saw the light and responded to consumers by opening a rulemaking on retransmission consent.”
Broadcasters have consistently argued that the large majority of negotiations are completed with no problem and that the FCC lacks authority to make the changes that cable operators and others are seeking
In his speech at NAB’s convention, Smith noted that the FCC recently “recognized again that it lacks the authority to intrude on private business negotiations, as pay-TV providers wanted.”
Still, Smith did not declare victory. "The issue is quiet until it is not, until a contract can’t be settled immediately," he said.
At a Monday session, two FCC officials agreed that the agency’s authority over the issue is limited.
Steve Broeckaert, senior deputy chief of the FCC’s policy division, reiterated the commission's view that under current law, the FCC cannot order broadcasters to allow interim carriage of their programming on cable providers during negotiations.
However, the commission did request comment on whether it has correctly interpreted the rules, he said. The agency has examined its authority twice, he added, and believes its conclusions are correct.
In a Tuesday morning speech to the NAB, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski provided few details on what the commission might do
He noted that the agency had been reluctant to intervene in the past but said that the recent series of blackouts due to retransmission disputes have forced the FCC to “assess the landscape and determine whether the current framework serves all stakeholders, businesses, and consumers. The proceeding is open, and I look forward to input from all parties.”