FCC Talking Retrans Reform Next Month

Watch for the Federal Communications Commission to put retransmission consent reform on the agenda for its March 3 meeting. A draft of the proceeding has been circulating in the commission since mid-January.

The FCC will release its tentative agenda for March 3 this Thursday.

Broadcasters see retransmission fees as a burgeoning second revenue stream, reeling in more than $1 billion in retransmission fees annually, a figure that is expected to reach $1.9 billion by 2013, per SNL Kagan.

Ninety-nine percent of retransmission negotiations are resolved without incident. But a few high-profile disputes lead to blackouts, such as Fox and Cablevision last October, which left about 4 million viewers without the first games of the World Series.

The FCC promised last December to take up retransmission consent rules in first quarter this year. As a result, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., pulled legislation he drafted during the Fox-Cablevision dispute.

According to sources, the commission will propose rules to determine what constitutes “bad faith” negotiations between broadcasters and cable systems in order to prevent blackouts of popular programming. Bill Lake, chief of the FCC’s Media Bureau, suggested as much in his December speech before The Media Institute. Arbitration as a solution to solving disputes is so far out of the picture.