On New Year’s Day, Major League Baseball launched its new cable network. Unlike the NFL Network, which has fought numerous battles with Comcast and Time Warner to try to get carriage, the MLB Network will debut in 50 million homes.
Gee, I wonder if it has anything to do with MLB giving Comcast, DIRECTV (now run by the guy who engineered this strategy, John Malone), and a bunch of other big cable boys an equity share?
Oh if only we had a federal law to prevent such extortionist use of market power, and a federal agency to enforce it! Oh wait, we do. Well why hasn’t the NFL filed a complaint? Oh wait, they did. Well then, why do Comcast, DIRECTV, and the rest of the cable cartel think they can get away with it? Oh right, because the FCC has done absolutely jack on this. Why? Because, as we all know, everything is perfectly wonderful and competitive in cable-land and trying to address the NFL’s complaint is just all part of Evil Kevin Martin’s wicked vendetta against this customer-oriented highly-competitive industry.
A bit more below . . . .
Back last November, the FCC considered reforming various rules designed to limit cable market power. While the FCC did adopt rules limiting the size of cable operators to 30% of the market and lowering the rates for leased access, the FCC failed to move forward on reform of its rules for how independent programmers can file complaints against cable operators for unfairly discriminating against them based on affiliation or lack thereof.
But now things are looking up. Last Friday, the Media Bureau addressed several pending complaints and designated them for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Unsurprisingly, the NFL got the media attention, but the more typical case was that of WealthTV — and it is that case that is therefore likely to have more long term impact on the industry (not that the NFL and MASN cases weren’t important as precedent).
This doesn’t eliminate the need for an Order that would clarify how the process works and set a reasonable time table for complainants and defendants, but it does help to move things along for those who dared to trust the process by filing a complaint, and may put heart into the rest of the independent programming industry to hang in there and keep trying.
More below . . .
Well, it took nearly a year since the FCC committed to reforming the leased access and carriage complaint processes as part of its Adelphia Transaction Order, but the wait proved worth it. On June 15, the FCC released a notice of proposed rulemaking asking all the right questions and opening the door for major changes in two critical but dysfunctional laws designed to break the stranglehold big cable companies have over cable programming: cable commercial leased access (47 U.S.C. 532) and the prohibition on favoring affiliated programming (aka “carriage complaint process”) (47 U.S.C. 536).
Done right, these two laws can usher in a new era of independent programming by giving programmers access to cable systems on fair terms. As you might imagine from the current cable programming universe — in which we get 30 different flavors of HBO (affiliated with time Warner) and however many Comcast-affiliated channels Comcast chooses to carry regardless of how few people actually watch, but you can’t find local programming or programming that competes with Comcast or Time Warner programming — the FCC has done a rather crappy job of implementing these rules since Congress passed the current versions in 1992. Nevertheless, wild-eyed optimist and occassionally successful crusader for lost causes that Iam, I think we have a real opportunity here to make these rules work. All it will take is for the progressives and conservatives who like to whine about how the media is all biased one way or another to get off their patooties and actually file something with the FCC. Then all the progressive and conservative would-be programmers will have their chance to sell their programming directly to audiences rather than negotiating with the likes of Brian Roberts, Sumner Redstone or Rupert Murdoch.
Notice appeared in the Federal Register on July 18, which makes comments due September 4 and reply comments due September 21. For those without calendars, this translates to the day after Labor Day and the day immediately before Yom Kippur. So I confess I begged for and got and extension. Now, comments are due September 11 and reply comments due October 12. The relevant docket number for those of you who file (and you know you all should!) is MB Docket No. 07-42.
So tired of watching crap you hate on cable, and wondering why people can’t get good programming on despite having a gazillion channels? See below . . . .
TotSF is my personal project and has no relationship to my employer, Media Access Project. All the views, etc. expressed herein are my own. At the same time, I think we do good work and hope other folks will take the time to appreciate us and support us.
So I am posting a link to MAP’s end of year update and appeal. If you like what we do, have some extra cash, and want to make all of us here at MAP feel appreciated, follow the link at the bottom to make a contribution online (or you can save time and click here).
Of necessity, a lot of the work we do is behind the scenes inside the beltway stuff. We don’t produce the independent programming or the community networks or the innovation on the internet. But we try to get rules that make it possible for that stuff to happen. When we get a donation from someone, however small, it does a lot to boost morale by showing that people care about our work and appreciate why it’s important.
Don’t get me wrong. We have very high esprit d’corp here at MAP. No one does this work and sticks with it unless you think it’s important. But it’s nice every now and then to know someone else appreciates it as well.
Stay tuned . . .