Article: Cable Execs Ask For New Rules In Programming Talks

The Associated Press
November 17, 2010

Executives for two leading cable companies are asking lawmakers for new government rules that would give them more clout in negotiations with TV broadcasters over programming.

Thomas Rutledge, chief operating officer of Cablevision Systems Corp., and Glenn Britt, chairman, president and chief executive of Time Warner Cable Inc., told members of the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday that new rules are needed following a series of high-profile disputes over the fees that cable companies pay broadcasters to transmit their signals.

Broadcasters have begun demanding more for those signals in recent years as advertising revenue has dropped off. But too often, Rutledge told the Senate panel, consumers are caught in the middle when broadcasters withdraw their signals during negotiations, often right before high-profile events.

Last month, a bitter stand-off between Cablevision and News Corp.’s Fox network left 3 million Cablevision subscribers in the New York area without Fox programming for 15 days — including through two World Series games — after the broadcaster pulled its signal.

Such contract disputes, Rutledge said, “are wreaking havoc on consumers, and we ought to find a way to resolve them without holding consumers hostage.”

For his part, News Corp. deputy chairman, president and chief operating officer Chase Carey argued in his testimony that broadcasters are simply using free-market negotiations to seek fair compensation for the “very popular and expensive content we air.” He added that if broadcasters are not paid enough for their programming, they will no longer be able to invest in high-quality content, including sporting events and local news.

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