Broadcasters Use Old Myths in Attempt to Keep Video Marketplace Laws Old and Unfair

In a recent Politico article broadcasters made the same tired and false claims in the debate about modernizing America’s video laws to protect consumers from TV blackouts and higher fees.  The last comprehensive reauthorization of U.S. video laws was in 1992, yes 1992.

This year, Congress must reauthorize the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR), or 870,000 satellite subscribers, many in the most rural areas of the country, will lose access to broadcast channels they receive from satellite.

As Congress considers this important legislation, broadcasters are spreading misinformation in their latest attempt to protect the broken retransmission consent process, which one Member of Congress calls a “racket.” The racket is that broadcasters use marquee programming like live sports and award shows to extract higher fees or risk a TV blackout.  Blackouts and consumer retrans fees have soared in recent years, as broadcasters seek to replace lost advertising profits.

The American Television Alliance (ATVA) supports the reauthorization of STELAR so rural America can continue receiving all their broadcast channels, but also believes it is way past time to modernize retransmission consent rules which currently favor broadcasters at the expense of consumers and competition.  As this debate begins, policymakers deserve to know the truth about the myths they’ll hear from broadcasters:     

Broadcaster Myth: TV viewers will not be negatively impacted if Congress fails to reauthorize STELAR.

Fact: If Congress fails to re-authorize STELAR, at least 870,000 consumers, mostly in rural areas, would lose broadcast channels from satellite.

Broadcaster Myth: Retrans fees are not a problem because they are less than those charged for some cable channels.

Fact: Retrans fees charged by broadcasters are for channels that are supposed to be provided FREE in exchange for the U.S. government (and taxpayers) providing FREE high-value spectrum to broadcasters for the distribution of local news and other public-interest programming.  Moreover, unlike cable channels, pay TV providers MUST CARRY local broadcast stations under the ancient provisions of the 1992 Cable Act.  Finally, retrans fees are the fastest rising part of consumers’ cable bills, skyrocketing from about $500 million in 2008 to $10.1 billion in 2018, or 1,920%.  These skyrocketing retrans fees are directly responsible for fueling the blackout crisis and are ultimately passed on to consumers.

Broadcaster Myth: Even if STELAR were to be reauthorized, it should be a clean reauthorization with no additional policy updates that could modernize the television marketplace.

Fact: Dozens of policy changes have been included in previous reauthorizations to help consumers.  This should be no different.

Broadcaster Myth:  The retransmission consent regime is working the way it’s supposed to because television blackouts are rare.

Fact: Wrong.  Since 2010, millions of Americans have seen dark screens instead of watching their favorite channels due to more than 1,000 broadcaster-initiated blackouts.  The number of blackouts went from only 8 in 2010 to a record setting 213 in 2017.  Furthermore, the threat of a blackout can be enough to extort higher fees that are ultimately paid by subscribers.

Additionally, retrans fees were supposed to fund things like local news and local programming. In reality, what local stations claim is local often isn’t local at all, because they are owned by large publicly traded corporations that control dozens of stations across the country. Rather than airing local news, big broadcasters are increasingly relying on syndication services to broadcast the same exact thing in hundreds of local TV markets.

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