The FCC put a hold on the reviews of both Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable and AT&T’s proposed purchase of DirecTV (see “Comcast and AT&T deal reviews put on hold”) largely because programmers believe their distribution contracts require the kind of secrecy ordinarily associated with FISA court requests.
There are plenty of reasons to hate cable companies (review Comcast’s prominent customer service problems – which I’ve been subject to as well), but one of the biggest reasons people hate cable companies is increasing prices. Unfortunately for MSOs, some of those price increases should properly be attributed to the programmers, but cable companies are sometimes contractually enjoined from even saying that much, let alone revealing which programmers are jacking their rates up and what the price increases are.
Now programmers are holding up two major deals because they don’t want 108 people – corporate apparatchiks and their legal counsel – from learning the details of their contracts with their distributors. These programmers are claiming they’ll somehow be damaged if 0.0000003 percent of all Americans, all sworn to secrecy, get to see how much they charge for their services?
I am sure they are on firm legal ground pleading that the information is competitive.
That ground should be blown up from underneath them with a well-placed metaphoric landmine.
How you make your network faster? That’s a competitive advantage. You shouldn’t have to share that. How you make your picture look better in a smaller amount of bandwidth? Competitive advantage. You can keep that private.
How much your service costs, though? The only way to get a competitive advantage out of that is if you keep it secret. There should be no grounds to claim something is a secret because it’s a secret.
The U.S. Government should not only reject the premise – as the FCC has – it should post the contracts in their entirety on a public web site as a public service.
Society’s highest priority, so we’re told, is a free market.
Viacom, Disney, HBO, and the rest of the programmers? They are not the market. Programmers plus their distributors? Not the market. Consumers are the market, and the whole pay TV business is predicated on withholding from the market all the most pertinent information the market needs.
Free market? Please. There is no interpretation of “free market” that allows a supplier of any good or service to withhold from the market what that supplier is charging.
Filed Under: Industry regulations