Broadcasters Ignore Congress, Keep Blacking Out TV Viewers

Imminent Blackout in New England Could Prevent Viewers from Seeing NFL on Thanksgiving

Just one week after Congress passed retransmission consent reforms for the first time, TV broadcasters are threatening to black out viewers in New England on Thanksgiving. The Cox blackout could prevent Verizon FIOS viewers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island from seeing their favorite programming on WFXT, including the NFL.

“Perhaps broadcasters need a bigger antenna to hear the message that Congress just delivered to them about retransmission consent,” ATVA spokesman Brian Frederick said. “The market has changed and the laws have now changed. But broadcasters’ behavior hasn’t. It’s unacceptable.”

Last week, Congress passed retransmission consent reforms as part of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Renewal of 2014, which had unanimous bipartisan, bicameral support. It was a clear sign from policymakers that the current system of retransmission consent is broken.

Cox’s behavior in the current situation illustrates how broken retransmission consent is. Immediately upon acquiring the station, Cox demanded a triple digit increase in fees over the rates Verizon is currently paying Cox for stations in other markets and an even greater increase over the fees Verizon was paying to the previous owner of the station.

“In the past two years, Cox has blacked out viewers in at least 11 different markets,” Frederick said. “Cox is clearly more interested in their own profits than letting TV viewers in New England enjoy some TV time on the couch with friends and family.”

Cox’s blackout of WFXT would be the 75th blackout by TV broadcasters this year. Just last month, SNL Kagan had to revise its retransmission consent revenue projections upward. Broadcasters are now expected to take in $9.3 billion by 2020, which is nearly double the $4.9 billion they’re expected to demand this year from pay-TV consumers for “free” TV.