Broadcasters Blackout Playoffs and Golden Globes

Jan 7, 2019

Small Cable Provider TDS Calls Out Broadcaster Nexstar for Egregious Negotiation Tactics in Letter to FCC

 Washington, D.C.  TV viewers looking for playoff football and the Golden Globes this weekend found blank screens as broadcasters continued their New Year’s blackouts. Small cable operator TDS sent a letter over the weekend to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai regarding the egregious negotiation tactics used by one of the country’s largest broadcasters, Nexstar Media Group.

Blackouts across the country continued over the weekend:

  • TV station owner Nexstar blacked out American Cable Association (ACA) member TDS on December 31, 2018 in Indiana, Tennessee, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Oregon, and Utah. Nexstar is demanding a rate increase up to 129%.  Nexstar also blacked out small cable provider Acentek in Grand Rapids, MI and Lacrosse,   Nexstar’s blackouts impacted both the Golden Globes and pro football playoff games.
  • Tribune Broadcasting blacked out six million Charter Communications’ Spectrum customers on January 2, 2019 in 24 markets across the country.  Tribune also pulled its WGN America cable signal, which impacts 14 million consumers.  The blackout impacted pro football playoff games over the weekend.
  • TV viewers in the U.S. Virgin Islands lost their ABC and CBS signals on Viya – the territory’s only cable TV service – on January 5, 2019. According to recent reports, Lilly Broadcasting more than doubled its fees for the channels in its package.

“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, American Television Alliance (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 “The bad news is that 2019 won’t be any better unless Congress and the FCC act to protect consumers and modernize the outdated video laws that were designed for a marketplace that hasn’t existed for a decade.”

Consumers were threatened with up to 70 year-end blackouts.  Broadcasters followed through with their blackouts 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.

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.  Consumers were blacked out 164 times in 2018 while broadcasters collected $10.1 billion in retrans fees, up from $9.3 billion in 2017.

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.

Major rules governing the U.S.  media marketplace were first written in 1934 and last updated for the media 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.

  • 26 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.