DirecTV CEO Wants More Transparency in TV Program Fees Talks

"There is no price discovery mechanism" in retrans negotiations between broadcasters and distributors, Mike White says as the FCC is scheduled to consider reforms.

NEW YORK -- The FCC is scheduled to start the process towards possible retransmission consent reform at a meeting on Thursday, but DirecTV CEO Mike White doesn't expect sweeping changes from the government agency.

Amid heated programming fee showdowns between broadcasters and TV distributors last year, such as one between cable operator Cablevision and News Corp./Fox that led to the temporary loss of signals in Cablevision households, some have called for new powers for the FCC in such battles.

In Thursday's open meeting, the FCC will consider issuing a so-called notice of proposed rulemaking that will seek comments on possible reforms to current retrans rules.

Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco Tuesday, White reiterated that the best the agency can likely do is to add transparency to the process.

"I'd love to see "you can't take it dark" and arbitration and all those things," he told investors. But "practically speaking," results will be less sweeping.

"If the FCC wanted to work on one thing it would be [to] find a way to create more transparency around what the market is," he argued.

White said there is currently no transparency at all. "There is no price discovery mechanism in this market," he said, which leads to companies trying to game each other. "This isn't a free market. Don't kid yourself."

He didn't mention specific proposals to increase transparency.

White cautioned though against expectations of major changes that would shake up the state of affairs. "The FCC will make some moves, but I don't frankly expect what they are likely to come up with will make any difference in the short run," he said.