Washington, D.C. (March 13, 2013) -
FCC chairman Julius
Genachowski yesterday seemed ready to enact new policies that
would eliminate channel blackouts in fee fights. But the agency
chief suddenly backed off his stance in the blink of an eye.
Testifying before a Senate panel on Tuesday, Genachowski was
asked by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) what could be
done about sports blackouts. But Genachowski surprisingly
switched the subject to channel blackouts that occur when TV providers and programmers
can't reach a new carriage agreement. (The fee fights are called
'retransmission negotiations' in the industry.)
"An area where (blackouts) come up to often is in the
retransmission consent area," the FCC chief said, according to
Broadcasting & Cable magazine. "It may be time to update those
provisions to reduce the chances of those blackouts during
retransmission consent negotiation."
The FCC arguably could amend the retransmission rules, which
govern the negotiations between TV providers and networks, but
has been reluctant to do so for various reasons, not the least
of which is political pressure from special interest groups such as
the National Association of Broadcasters.
But Genachowski's statement seemed to be a change in his
position and it led to an instant chorus of hope on Twitter
pages across the nation. But the agency chief quickly retreated
with his next comment.
"Our authority under the existing statute is limited. This may
be an area where we need to work with the committee," he added.
In other words, he told the Senate the ball is in their court,
not the FCC's, which is bad news for viewers who would like to see
channel blackouts in fee fights come to an end. The Senate has
also been unwilling to take on the issue for the same reason the
FCC has not: political pressure.