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Retrans negotiations get ugly with ad claims

Fri, 10/28/2011 - 2:58pm
Brian Santo

DirecTV is accusing Fox of creating misleading advertising as the two renegotiate their retransmission contract.

Fox is running print ads and TV commercials informing DirecTV subscribers that "on Nov. 1, DirecTV will drop," and then it lists a number of Fox channels, including Fox Sports, FX, Speed and others. The ads also mention that Fox broadcast stations might be affected.

Retrans negotiations have been ugly for a while and will remain so until the FCC or Congress actually does something about the broken system. Programmers have learned there are few restraints on their behavior in their battles to extract higher fees from MVPDs, and there is certainly no injunction against lobbying consumers directly.

One of the few countermeasures available to DirecTV under those circumstances is complaining if it feels Fox is engaged in false advertising, and that's the crux of the matter here.

In a letter delivered to the FCC, DirecTV complains that "in the midst of a dispute over cable programming, Fox is using misleading advertising, informing DirecTV customers that, 'Soon, in some markets, you may lose your local Fox station,' even though our retransmission consent agreement does not expire for over two months."

The agreement between the two companies on the cable channels has in fact expired, and DirecTV is carrying them under an extension that goes through Nov. 1. On the other hand, the contract between the two covering broadcast channels does not expire until the end of December.

DirecTV is acknowledging that there's a bit of hair-splitting in the claims, but splitting hairs is something the FCC can do when considering fairness in advertising.

"At the same time it is informing DirecTV customers that they may soon lose access to such stations, purposely conflating a potential Nov. 1 deadline for cable programming with the additional loss of broadcast programming, the delivery of which is assured through the end of the year, Fox is clearly abusing the public trust by its deliberate attempt to confuse and alarm consumers. Such conduct is certainly not what the Commission had in mind when it made Fox a steward of the nation’s airwaves entrusted to serve the public interest," the company's letter to the FCC reads.

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