Tales of the Sausage Factory

SkyAngel Files Program Access Complaint — Has Media Bureau Really Changed, Or Will They Again Sit On Sidelines?

Some people wonder why I remain so down on the Media Bureau. “Harold,” they say. “Why do you keep saying the Media Bureau are in the pocket of the cable industry? Aren’t they just all fired up and rarin’ to go on the upcoming cable set top box proceedings?”

Perhaps I am allowing the experiences of the past to cloud my vision of a hopeful tomorrow. Perhaps, despite an utterly abysmal track record on cable matters, the cable folks in the Media Bureau have now turned over a new leaf. Perhaps now they will at least process complaints in less than three years, so that companies other than cable operators might feel they get some due process — if not actual justice — at the FCC. Who knows?

Which is why I shall watch the developments around the Sky Angel program access complaint with considerable interest. Sky Angel used to distribute programming by satellite, making it eligible for the “program access” rules that require cable operators with affiliated programming to make that programming available to rivals. (I’ve written about these rules at length before here.)

From what I can tell from the limited data available, Sky Angel is now a “Christian IPTV distributor.” It resembles a cable/satellite-like service (or “MVPD” for “multichannel video programming distributor”) in every way except for the fact that it does not own its own facilities. It distributes its programming online. We generally call these things “over the top” video distributors. According to the Broadcasting and Cable story (since I haven’t been able to find a copy of the complaint), the Discovery Channel has decided to terminate its distribution contract with Sky Angel four years early — apparently because Sky Angel has switched its distribution model to become a pure over-the-top distributor.

My problem is, that this looks very similar to a complaint a company called VDC (“Virtual Digital Cable”) filed three years ago. The Media Bureau has yet to process that complaint, but there’s no rush — since the company went bankrupt and shut down while waiting for Media Bureau action.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

MLB Network Pays To Play To Get On Cable — Dumb NFL Stupidly Relies on FCC To Enforce Federal Law. Suckers.

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 . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Cable Ownership Limits: This Is The Jonathan Adelstein I know

OK, first, as our Great Hero and the real Favorite Son of South Carolina, Stephen Colbert would say: Martin as a true set of huevos grande. On Tuesday, when it looked like he was going down in flames, I opined that Martin wouldn’t risk touching cable again with a ten foot pole and wondered whether he would be relegated to the status of a “lame duck” Chairman. Boy was I wrong. Not only did fight his way back from a total loss to a partial win against the massed might of the cable lobby, but he has emerged determined to go on for another round in bringing cable market power to heel, and this time with no distractions about a la carte.

This time, it’s a vote on the proposed cable ownership limit. Under Martin’s proposal, a cable company may control no more than 30% of the total number of cable, satellite, or other “multichannel video programming distributor” (MVPD) subscribers. As usual, we in the media reform/diversity community have been pushing this for years and, as usual, the cable industry insists it is totally unnecessary, ilegal, fattening, and will mean that the terrorsts win.

So I take a moment to appluad Kevin Martin for his continued courage and willingness to do the right thing on cable, even while making a huge mistake on broadcast ownership. But perhaps more importantly, Jonathan Adelstein has jumped on this puppy and run with it. After the bitter disappointment of this past week’s cable vote, it is a much needed shot in the arm to see Adelstein back in his usual form as a defender of diversity and an opponent of market power. Not to take anything away from Michael Copps, mind, who as usual has a track record of opposing consolidation in cable and has worked with Martin on a host of issues limiting cable market power. I’m just saying that seeing Adelstein act decisively on this one restores my faith that while we may have disagreed on 70/70 (and as usual when these things happen, I’m the one whose right), it was an honest disagreement and not something more nefarious. So while I remain disappointed, I am no longer dismaly disillusioned or dismayed.

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Fighting Big Cable (and why it matters)

Most of my time the last few weeks has been taken up with cable ownership issues. If you want the short version and the immediate, easy action to take, click through to my friends at Free Press. For those interested in a little more detail and what else you can do, read on . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Lafayette we are here!

The city of Lafayette, LA approved a $125 million municipal bond referendum to build out a municipal network by a hefty 62% to 38% margin. Contrast this with the ease with which state franchising is moving through the TX legislature now that SBC has dropped the anti-muni provision. There’s a lesson here, folks . . .

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