We exist in a media a la carte world when it comes to new digital platforms. After all, the program -- or the content -- is the thing. Less importance is based on a program’s association with Hulu, Netflix, Amazon or YouTube.
But in the old TV world – specifically the current cable TV scenario – that means a lot, especially to the likes of independent network owners such as Bloomberg Television. For its part, Bloomberg wants to be in the next to the big cable news networks -- all to help push along its business.
On Wednesday, the FCC sided with Bloomberg’s complaint that its should have a better channel position. Under terms of the FCC’s approval of Comcast's acquisition of NBCUniversal last year, Bloomberg had argued that as an "independent news channel," it was entitled to appear in the same "news neighborhoods" as the likes of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.
For the Comcast-NBC deal to get the go-ahead, the FCC wanted “to ensure that the transaction served the public interest.” Under the FCC’s condition, this all came with a big “if” – that is, “if” Comcast would creates “news neighborhoods” in its channel lineup, then it would need to put other ‘independent’ networks in that neighborhood.
The obvious rub: Bloomberg Television, a financial news channel, was worried about the unfair competition Comcast brings as a majority owner of NBCUniversal and its cable financial news network CNBC.
From a consumer point of view, it would make sense for Bloomberg to be near the other networks. But from a business point of view -- namely, Comcast’s -- why give your competitor any advantage?
According to the FCC, “Four news or business news channels within any five adjacent channel positions qualifies as a significant number or percentage of news and/or business news channels and therefore constitutes a neighborhood for purposes of the news neighborhooding condition.”
This should make sense for consumers who buy monthly cable, satellite, or telco TV. A consumer might immediately head to, say, channels 280 to 300 to perhaps find kids' networks, or channels 600 to 625 for sports networks. That’s just good business in the current TV service model. Otherwise you have a navigation mess.
On the Internet, much is made about “navigation” -- the industry calls it “search.” There, MSNBC doesn’t need to be “next” to CNN, Fox News or Bloomberg Television. “Search” is more valuable as well as an already established strong brand name.
Bloomberg doesn’t want to be put on the lower shelf at the media supermarket -- out of sight of consumers.
But you might wonder about all the other independent programmers -- few as there are -- who also want to be in among the big networks. In a media retail environment of growing choice, that becomes harder to secure – not just for financial news networks.