Thursday, September 15, 2011

Retrans Rates Good For Broadcasters, Bad For Cable

On debate teams, you learned that there were 2 sides to an argument and one had to learn how to argue each position, both for and against. Helpful too for attorneys who need to anticipate the other side of the case in order to best clarify their position. Well Steve Burke, formerly on the Comcast side and now on the NBC broadcast side, finds himself arguing for retransmission fees when he once argued against them. "Comcast bosses Brian Roberts and Burke, according to sources, have made a calculation that they’re better off focusing on creating value on the content side of their business than on the cable side because valuations are much better for content businesses." What that seems to mean is that those increased fees for broadcast add to the revenue line and those higher fees charged to cable can be matched with equal increases to cable subscription prices. Good for the company and bad news for the consumer.

It works in Comcast's favor because they own both the content and distribution platform. A position that creates a very powerful vertical strategy in entertainment. Other cable companies, like Time Warner and Cabevision have recently split their two platforms into two separate public companies. And smaller cable operators have not been so lucky as to own a piece of content. Mediacom has long argued that retrans fees are not in the best interest of the consumer.

In the past broadcasters didn't ask for fees for their broadcast channels. Some chose the must-carry rule, others used broadcast as leverage to get new carriage of their cable networks. But now that these cable networks (specifically those owned by today's broadcasters - NBC, ABC, Fox, CBS, Univision) are carried everywhere, the next avenue of growth for broadcasters is fee based.

So Steve Burke and Comcast have come to grips with retrans consent; the consumer has not. The threat of cord cutting could cause customers to stop taking cable programming. They could get their broadcast channels without fee through a digital antenna and watch their programs via a broadband connection. An increase in fees passed on to consumers may only exacerbate the situation. That seems to be what Netflix is feeling right now.

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