FCC Will “Consider Appropriate Action” If CBS Blackout Continues, But Does That Mean Anything?

Acting FCC Chair Mignon Clyburn, pictured here speaking to school children, who are probably a better audience than lawyers for TWC and CBS.

Acting FCC Chair Mignon Clyburn, pictured here speaking to school children, who are probably a better audience than lawyers for TWC and CBS.

While it could (and probably does) mean absolutely nothing, the acting Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission did something her predecessors have rarely done — expressed an opinion on, and hinted at possible intervention in, the ongoing war of words and numbers between Time Warner Cable and CBS.

“I am really distressed that consumers and viewers are being adversely affected,” acting FCC Chair Mignon Clyburn said during a press conference on Friday. “I’m ready to consider appropriate action if this dispute continues.”

The big question is — what would that “appropriate action” consist of? The FCC has generally — at least publicly — stayed away from carriage fee disputes and blackout that leave customers in the dark (and ultimately just result in higher cable rates).

It’s possible that “considering appropriate action” quite literally means nothing more than talking to other experts about what, if anything the FCC could do to hasten a resolution (preferably one that doesn’t involve customers getting beaten over the head with their more expensive monthly bills… dare to dream).

“I am deeply disappointed that the parties seem to be unable to reach a retransmission agreement,” added Clyburn. “We will continue to urge both parties to stay and resolve in good faith this issue as soon as possible.”

Clyburn’s words were music to Time Warner Cable’s ears, as it has asked the FCC to investigate broadcasters’ bundling practices, in which companies like CBS force cable and satellite providers to accept a large group of channels — and pay for them all — just to get access to the few that the large number of customers really want.

“We agree with the Chairwoman that consumers are being adversely affected,” Time Warner Cable said about Clyburn’s remarks. “We hope that CBS soon will come to a reasonable agreement with us that is fair to our customers and their viewers.”

However, the FCC has historically demonstrated little willingness to become involved in such matters. Even if it chose to step in, many believe that it has little — if any — authority to do anything other than make sure both sides are negotiating in good faith.

So while Clyburn might speak openly about her distaste for the current situation, it would likely take an act of Congress to give the FCC any binding authority over blackouts.

FCC Acting Chairwoman Threatens to Step Into CBS, Time Warner Cable Standoff [AdWeek]
Clyburn: ‘Really Distressed’ CBS/TWC Have Yet to Strike Deal [Multichannel.com]