Broadcasters Blackout Millions of TV Viewers Across 24 States and 54 Markets

Jan 4, 2019

Broadcasters Blackout Millions of TV Viewers Across 24 States and 54 Markets
College Football Bowl Games, Pro Football Playoffs Threatened
All-Time Blackouts Top 1,000 With No End in Sight
Broadcasters Pocket $10.1 Billion for ‘Free’ TV in 2018

Washington, D.C.  Broadcasters across the country blacked out millions of consumers on the eve of College football bowl games, pro football playoff games, and holiday programming, bringing the total blackout count for 2018 to 164. According to an American Television Alliance analysis (ATVA) of publicly available reports, consumers were threatened with up to 70 year-end blackouts.  Broadcasters followed through with their blackout in 24 states and the District of Columbia, impacting a total of 54 markets.  Live televised football games are the most frequently targeted and blacked out programming category, according to an analysis by ATVA.

Blackouts across the country included:

Broadcasters shattered the record for the most TV blackouts in a single calendar year in 2017, intentionally taking down signals from cable and satellite customers a staggering 213 times last year.  Consumers have been blacked out 164 times in 2018 while broadcasters collected $10.1 billion in retrans fees, up from $9.3 billion in 2017.

“The New Year is always a favorite blackout target for broadcasters but this is by far the worst it’s ever been,” said Trent Duffy, ATVA spokesman.  “The bad news is that 2019 won’t be any better unless Congress and the FCC act to protect consumers and modernize the outdated video laws that were designed for a marketplace that hasn’t existed for a decade,” said ATVA spokesman Trent Duffy.

The 1992 Cable Act established the doctrines of government mandated broadcast carriage or must carry; and forced negotiations known as retransmission consent.  Retransmission consent fees are the payments that TV distributors (cable, satellite, and other TV providers) are required to pay in order to carry broadcast TV channels.  If demands for higher fees are not met, broadcasters pull their signals.   A cable or satellite operator is not allowed to provide subscribers a broadcaster’s signal without permission, which allows broadcasters to use the threat of or actual blackouts to extort higher fees that are ultimately paid by subscribers.

The rules governing our video marketplace were first written in 1934 and last updated in the 1992 Cable Act. These rules were written at a time when the internet was still in its infancy and multiple streaming options didn’t exist.

TV Blackout Crisis: 2017 Breaks Blackout Record as Broadcasters Rake in Billions from Viewers

Since 2010, millions of Americans have seen dark screens instead of watching their favorite channels due to more than 1,000 broadcaster-initiated blackouts. In the 10-year period between 2008 and 2018, retrans fees collected by broadcasters went from about a half a billion dollars to $10.1 billion, an increase of 1,920 percent.  With 213 blackouts, 2017 was the worst year for TV blackouts on record.

  • 24 blackouts in 2019
  • 164 blackouts in 2018
  • 213 blackouts in 2017
  • 104 blackouts in 2016
  • 193 blackouts in 2015
  • 94 blackouts in 2014
  • 119 blackouts in 2013
  • 90 blackouts in 2012
  • 42 blackouts in 2011
  • 8 blackouts in 2010

The American Television Alliance (ATVA) brings together an unprecedented coalition of consumer groups, cable, satellite, telephone companies, and independent programmers to raise awareness about the risk TV viewers face as broadcasters increasingly threaten service disruptions that would deny viewers access to the programs they and their families enjoy.

For more information about ATVA, visit our website. Follow us on Twitter @ATVAlliance.