Over the past decade, broadcasters have abused outdated rules to boost their bottom lines. To this day they continue to threaten viewers with blackouts.



Retransmission consent fees (“retrans fees”) are the payments that TV distributors (cable, satellite, and other TV providers) make to broadcasters to carry their TV channels. Retrans fees are a relic of a time before the Internet. Consider that:

  • Retrans fees were established by the 1992 Cable Act
  • The rules were written at a time when most of us had only one choice for pay TV service
  • Today, we have a multiple TV options, but our video rules are still based on the old model of only one pay TV provider

Making a bad situation worse is “Reverse Retrans”: National broadcast networks are forcing local stations to charge higher retransmission consent fees and demanding a cut of the profits. Retrans fees were intended to support local broadcast journalism but station owners in faraway places are stripping resources from local communities to fatten their profits.

If their demands for higher fees are not met, broadcasters yank their signals from consumers, leaving you without your favorite programming indefinitely. Broadcasters blackout their channels until their ransom demands are met. And when they are, it results in much higher prices for you, the consumer.

Big broadcasters are paying an army of Washington lobbyists to keep the current retrans system in place because they want to continue to charge higher and higher fees for their programming. Despite tremendous changes in how consumers watch TV, the rules governing the video marketplace have stayed the same.

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The “Big 4” networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX) provide programming such as morning and nightly national news shows, some daytime dramas and prime time and late night shows. That programming is then shown by their owned and operated (“O&O”) stations or their affiliated stations.

Cable and satellite TV providers already pay more than a quarter billion dollars in royalty fees each year for the programming content carried by these broadcast stations. Retransmission consent fees are charged in addition to these payments, meaning that pay TV subscribers are essentially being charged twice to watch the same content.

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Broadcast Networks hold all the cards and win every time. Retrans fees are soaring – the fastest rising part of the monthly Pay TV bill. The fact that there are so many choices for Pay TV (and the same old video rules) enables broadcasters to play pay TV companies off of one another and jack up rates. When broadcasters can unilaterally blackout their programming and harm consumers with impunity, they are guaranteed to win.

Pay TV companies want to give their customers the programming they love, but in order to do so they have to either pay the exorbitant amounts networks demand or put their customers at risk of a blackout.


The broken retrans system is a lose-lose situation for consumers. Broadcasters abuse retrans rules and blackout innocent consumers until they get what they want. Pay TV subscribers are caught in the middle, they either experience TV blackouts when a broadcasters blacks out programming, or they see higher bills when companies give in to broadcaster’s demands – retrans fees are the fast rising part of the pay TV bill. Either way, broadcasters are giving consumers the shaft.

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