The last post I wrote about the black out of WESH and WKCF on Brighthouse, which started on July 10th. Ten days later, they worked to an agreement (details are private) and are now back on the air. Thank goodness, because the Scranton weather was just not cutting it for most people (I have a friend who said he actually enjoyed watching it though).
While this was affecting Orlando and some other markets, there was a national issue happening with Viacom and DirecTV (lots of articles kept spelling this wrong, by the way – do they need more branding?) and their dispute was keeping Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, etc off the air, as well. And, in my research, I found that Dish and AMC are in a dispute and AMC and their several channels have gone dark.
What is going on here?
I did a little digging on the FCC web site and found that since 1993, the FCC allowed affiliate broadcasters the right to re-negotiate their agreements ever three years. If you recall, back in December 2009, there was worry that the Sugar Bowl (which the Gators were playing) wouldn’t be seen in the Orlando market on FOX that year because FOX and Brighthouse were in negotiation disputes. Fortunately for Gator fans, they reached an agreement at the final hour and the game could be seen, but more and more issues like this are coming up.
There are three things that a broadcaster can negotiate with a cable provider. First, they can say no-go and not give consent of the cable provider, which after the switch from regular antenna to digital, no one is doing. The second is to demand a must-carry (which I assume a lot of smaller, educational stations do) so that the cable provider has to put them on a decently numbered channel, but they don’t have to pay the broadcaster for it. There are also rules from the FCC on how many broadcast stations a cable station must provide depending on their size.
The final thing a broadcaster can do is request that they be compensated for the content they are providing because they know the cable provider needs them to comply with the FCC’s minimium broadcast rules. The broadcaster also feels like they’ve got good enough content so that a lot of people will be demanding their station if the cable provider weren’t to provide it. Then it becomes tug of war on how much the broadcasters get.
For the first decade of this three year rule, the cable providers and broadcasters didn’t really want to rock the boat, so they changed as little as possible in the negotiations. Now, everyone’s getting frisky and realizing that adding a dollar or even a penny per person could spell mega-profits and mega-costs for both parties.