Category Archives: News Articles

NAB Hypocrisy Watch: Broadcasters Tout Localism to Congress 1 Day after Blacking Out TV Viewers in Hurricane Irma’s Path

Doublespeak from Broadcaster Trade Group as Station-Owners put Profits before Public Safety

Washington, D.C. – The brazen hypocrisy of the National Association of Broadcasters was on full display for policymakers and consumers at the House Energy and Commerce Committee this morning as an NAB witness touted the organization’s commitment to serving the public during extreme weather events, one day after Hearst Television blacked out viewers in Orlando in New Orleans – two major cities in the path of Hurricane Irma, the strongest Atlantic storm in history.

American Television Alliance Spokesman Trent Duffy reacted to the doublespeak from NAB:

“Actions speak louder than words.  The callous decision by Hearst Television to pull the plug on tens of thousands of TV viewers as the most dangerous storm in history looms is appalling.  Congress should know that NAB’s members are once again engaged in profiteering during a public safety emergency. The organization’s professed commitment to localism rings hallow when tens of thousands see a blank screen rather than critical news and information in the face of a hurricane.  Putting profits before public safety is reckless and wrong.  Lawmakers should hold Broadcasters accountable for their actions.”

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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.

Big Broadcasters Blackout Christmas

A Wave of Broadcaster Blackouts set to Hit Families over the Holidays  

Washington, D.C. – The following statement can be attributed to ATVA national spokesman Trent Duffy:

“As families gather together this weekend to celebrate holiday traditions, big broadcasters have pulled the plug on tens of thousands of Pay-TV customers.  Broadcaster-initiated blackouts of local programming are underway in Baton Rouge, Tyler and Grand Junction and more are threatened in Seattle, Portland, Wilkes-Barre and New Orleans.  2016 is coming to a close just as it began, with a wave of broadcaster blackouts of innocent consumers.  This is even more evidence of why the FCC and Congress must act to reform a broken retransmission consent system.”

Broadcasters have pulled the plug on American consumers 102 times in 2016.  Network takedowns have spiked in recent years; in 2010 there were only eight black outs nationwide.

SNL Kagan predicts that retransmission-consent fees could nearly double in the next five years to $11.6 billion.  SNL Kagan predicts that stations will receive about $7.7 billion in retransmission consent fees in 2016, up about 20% from the $6.4 billion in 2015.

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.

Consumer and Citizen Groups Call Out CBS for Threatening to Black Them Out

Washington, DC – July 24, 2013 — Many consumers would hate to lose access to Big Bang Theory, NCIS, 60 Minutes—or other popular CBS programs. In fact, cable and satellite customers can’t count on uninterrupted access to any of the Big Four (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) networks because the 1992 Cable Act requires pay TV providers to get broadcaster consent to carry the station and, since there’s no limit on what broadcasters can charge in so-called retransmission fees, pay TV providers can either pay up or lose the programming.

The CBS network has upped the ante with a consumer scare campaign. It’s started to run crawls and advertising across its broadcast and cable properties warning Time Warner Cable customers that they may lose programming prior to the expiration of the companies’ retransmission consent agreement on July 25.

CBS is putting consumers in the middle of a fight they shouldn’t have to worry about. Programming blackouts and threats of blackouts harm consumers who may have to switch providers just to keep receiving the same broadcast channels they can get for free with a pair of rabbit ears. While the current dispute affects only Time Warner Cable customers, the situation is likely to spread to other pay TV providers as retrans consent agreements expire and the scrapping begins all over again. Certainly, this type of dispute has affected other pay TV providers and their customers in the past—remember the threats to black out access to widely viewed events such as the Academy Awards and professional sports games.

Threatened blackouts force consumers to think about switching pay television providers just because a local broadcaster wants more money for the same network content they’ve provided all along. This could be especially burdensome to low-income consumers who can’t skip work for an installation appointment. And we fear it forces non-English speaking consumers to switch and give up in-language programming if their second-choice provider doesn’t carry it.

CBS CEO Les Moonves calls blackouts the “ultimate leverage” for broadcasters and says that “the sky’s the limit” for retransmission consent fees.

Moonves’ remark really pours cold water on cable and satellite TV subscribers, who are already shouldering big costs to tune in. According to the American Television Alliance, a coalition of industry and public interest groups, retrans fees have increased from $216 million to nearly $2.4 billion in just 6 years. Fees are estimated to more than double by 2018 to over $6 billion. That’s faster than any other programming cost. And those costs get passed on to consumers.

Meanwhile, retrans threatens independent, diverse content because those same broadcast networks own most of the cable channels and link their carriage with broadcast channels, making it harder for new, independent networks to get into the lineup.

All of this raises the question: Why does government let broadcasters get away with threatening blackouts? This is a heavily regulated system, but retransmission rules seem designed to increase broadcaster leverage. There are no rules in place to protect consumers from blackouts or allow them to opt out of receiving broadcast stations to save a few bucks on their TV bills.

The FCC has been unwilling to adopt rules to protect consumers from rising retrans fees despite having had a proceeding open to consider such rules since 2011. And there is no way to stop broadcasters from adding new cable channels to their lineups and pushing out minority-owned or community-based channels that might otherwise get carried.

After all the attention paid and money poured into the digital transition of broadcast channels to protect “free” TV, broadcasters who get their spectrum from the public should not hold viewers hostage in retransmission negotiations with pay TV companies. It’s been more than 20 years since the retrans rules were enacted. They’re clearly broken and something needs to be changed to protect consumers instead of broadcasters.

About Consumer Action

Consumer Action has been a champion of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. A non-profit 501(c)3 organization, Consumer Action focuses on consumer education that empowers low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers to financially prosper. It also advocates for consumers in the media and before lawmakers to advance consumer rights and promote industry-wide change.

About LULAC

LULAC (www.lulac.org), the League of United Latin American Citizens, is the largest and oldest Hispanic Organization in the United States. LULAC advances the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, health and civil rights of Hispanic Americans through community-based programs operating at more than 900 LULAC councils nationwide. The organization involves and serves all Hispanic nationality groups.

Broadcaster Greed, Outdated Rules Making 2012 the Year of the Blackout

When Will Congress or the FCC Stop Broadcaster Abuse of Viewers?

Washington, D.C.  April 5, 2012 – The Tribune blackout of 19 markets puts broadcasters on course to shatter last year’s record of nearly 40 cities hits by retrans blackouts.  Millions of viewers in nine of the top ten TV markets have already felt the pain and there is no end in sight.  This dispute set a new low, with Wall Street bankers and hedge funds needlessly abusing viewers for their own gain.  Until Congress or the FCC reform the rules, the bullying will continue and consumers will continue to lose.

The Hill Op-Ed: TV Station Blackouts, Less Local TV News Call Into Question FCC Rules

TV station blackouts, less local TV news call into question FCC rules

By Phillip Napoli, Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business

December 22, 2011

As the year winds down, TV viewers across the nation are in danger of losing their local broadcast stations thanks to disputes over retransmission consent fees. These are the fees that cable and satellite companies pay to local stations to carry the stations’ signals on their systems. In recent years, as the negotiations have become increasingly combative, viewers have faced blackouts, or threatened blackouts of those local stations.

This year there have been blackouts in more than thirty markets. Earlier this year, one broadcaster even pulled the plug on a local station in the Gulf Coast, depriving viewers of critical news and weather updates as Tropical Storm Lee approached thousands of homes. These tactics raise significant questions as to whether the public interest is actually being considered and served.

In the wake of these ongoing disputes, the FCC is reviewing its retransmission consent regulations, which were mandated by the 1992 Cable Act. Broadcasters argue that the fees are integral for maintaining local programming on the air. In fact, that was the whole basis for the legislation in the first place – broadcasters maintained that they were public trustees, serving local informational needs, and needed to maintain economic viability and wide accessibility. Retransmission consent fees would provide these broadcasters the financial capacity and stability to continue providing the public with critical local programming.

Nearly two decades later, the retransmission consent regulations are still in place, and the payments that they generate are now a massive source of revenue for broadcasters. In 2006, broadcasters pocketed $216 million in retransmission fees. This year, that number skyrocketed to an estimated $1.3 billion. Given this substantial increase, one would assume that local programming would have benefited. The contrary appears to be true.

In multiple studies, researchers have found that local news and programming has markedly dwindled over the past decades. A study by the FCC this year found that television stations provide on average less than 1.5 hours of local public affairs programming per week. Commercial stations that provide absolutely no local news programming are increasingly prevalent, as are stations that merely replay the local news broadcasts of other stations in their market.  Additionally, financial and personnel resources devoted to local news and public affairs have dropped significantly in recent years. No matter how it’s measured, broadcaster commitment to localism through local news and information programming hasn’t kept up with skyrocketing retransmission payments.

Instead of supporting local programming, retransmission fees now seem to be going straight to the bottom line of the Big Four broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox). NBC, for instance, is seeking 50% of all retransmission consent revenues obtained by its local affiliates.

The FCC must take note of this significant disconnect between retransmission revenue and local programming. Despite serving as an increasingly significant revenue source for broadcasters, retransmission fees are not accomplishing Congress’ original goal of serving the informational needs and interests of local communities.

Napoli is a professor and department chair at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business. He is also the Director of Fordham’s Donald McGannon Communication Research Center.

View online here.

All press inquiries should be directed to Mike Heimowitz at michael.heimowitz@porternovelli.com.

The New York Times: Paying a ‘Sports Tax,’ Even if You Don’t Watch

Paying a ‘Sports Tax,’ Even if You Don’t Watch

The New York Times

By BRIAN STELTER and AMY CHOZICK

December 15, 2011

Are you ready for some football?

You are paying for it regardless.

Although “sports” never shows up as a line item on a cable or satellite bill, American television subscribers pay, on average, about $100 a year for sports programming — no matter how many games they watch. A sizable portion goes to the National Football League, which dominates sports on television and which struck an extraordinary deal this week with the major networks — $27 billion over nine years — that most likely means the average cable bill will rise again soon.

Those spiraling costs are fraying the formerly tight bonds between the creators and distributors of television. Cable channels like ESPN that carry games are charging cable and satellite operators more money, and broadcast networks are now doing the same, demanding cash for their broadcast signals and using sports as leverage.

And higher fees are raising concerns across the industry that cable bills may be reaching the breaking point for some consumers who are short of money.

The N.F.L. contracts announced this week “will surely enrich N.F.L. owners and players just as much as it will impoverish all pay TV subscribers, particularly those who will never watch an N.F.L. game,” said Matthew M. Polka, the president of the American Cable Association, which represents small cable operators. His group wants government officials to step in and make it harder for channel owners to demand higher fees for carriage and drop the channels when operators disagree.

Continue reading this article here:

The New York Times: Paying a ‘Sports Tax,’ Even if You Don’t Watch

All press inquiries should be directed to Mike Heimowitz at michael.heimowitz@porternovelli.com.

The Hill and Yahoo!Sports: Fans ask FCC to stop blackouts of sports games

Fans ask FCC to stop blackouts of sports games

The Hill
By Gautham Nagesh
Friday, May 27, 2011

A group representing sports fans is asking the Federal Communications Commission to help prevent games from being blacked out during retransmission disputes between broadcasters and TV providers.

SportsFans.org, a nonprofit that aims to give fans a voice on issues such as public subsidies for stadiums, filed comments with the Commission on Thursday asking the agency to do something to prevent fans from missing games.

The group pointed to several recent incidents such as the dispute between FOX and Cablevision that caused millions of New York area cable subscribers to miss the first two games of the 2010 World Series.

“Sports fans have become a political football in retransmission consent disputes,” the group’s filing states.

“Fans who are vital to the success of sports and who have contributed through multiple public and private expenditures are treated like fumbled pigskins.”

The group wants the FCC to waive the blackout, network nonduplication and syndicated exclusivity rules that prevent two channels from broadcasting the same live sporting event whenever a broadcast signal is taken down due to a retransmission dispute so fans won’t miss any games.

“The Commission has long treated sports programming as distinguishable from other types of programming, whether in the context of special rules, such as the sports blackout rule or merger conditions designed to prevent the anti-competitive hoarding of regional sports networks,” the filing states.

“In this proceeding, the Commission similarly can draw the line at using sports programming as a negotiating tool.”

SportsFans.org was founded in 2009 and features sports writer Dave Zirin and Public Knowledge founder Gigi Sohn on its board of directors. The group has previously pushed for a college football playoffs system and argued against work stoppages for the NFL and other major sports leagues.

Continue reading this article here:

The Hill: Fans ask FCC to stop blackouts of sports games


Group asks FCC to eliminate NFL blackouts

Yahoo!Sports
Saturday, May 28, 2011

A nonprofit organization known as SportsFans.org has asked the FCC to put an end to blackouts of sports broadcasts, including NFL games.

The group asks the FCC to revise or cease retransmission disputes, the kind of thing that led to seven regular-season home games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers not being shown on television in the local market last season.

Continue reading this article here:

Yahoo! Sports: Group asks FCC to eliminate NFL blackouts

The Hill: Minority advocacy groups want FCC to end blackouts

The Hill

By Gautham Nagesh

May 30, 2011

The Federal Communications Commission should require broadcasters and television providers to maintain programming regardless of the status of retransmission negotiations, according to a coalition of minority advocacy groups.

The groups, which include the Hispanic Federation, the National Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, argue that blackouts during retransmission disputes disproportionately harm low income and minority consumers in comments filed with the Commission.

“Consumers should not be burdened with having to switch providers when their programming is interrupted, nor should they have to endure costs that may be the unfortunate by-product of switching, — such as paying additional deposits and connection fees for a new provider, or having to install new hardware and learn new software in order to keep watching their shows — just to keep watching broadcast television shows,” the groups state.

Continue reading this article here:

The Hill: Minority advocacy groups want FCC to end blackouts

TV News Check: ACA Asks FCC To End Retrans ‘Price Fixing’

TVNewsCheck

May 31, 2011

In what it calls an effort to “inject free-market competition into retransmission consent,” the American Cable Association is urging the FCC to adopt rules that would ban separately owned broadcasters from bargaining “as a collusive unit within the same market and outlaw broadcast networks and TV stations from interfering with cable operators’ rights to carry distant network signals that customers have historically received and valued.”

In comments filed with the FCC claiming an urgent need for retransmission consent reform, ACA requested agency action this year in time for new rules to apply to thousands of retrans agreements set to expire on Dec. 31.

ACA’s comments detailed 36 instances of such coordinated negotiations — including the names of the broadcasters involved and the markets where such coordination is occurring — that ACA members have experienced in just the last three years.

“Broadcasters said ACA would find no actual occurrences of coordinated negotiations, and ACA responded by laying the facts on the table for the FCC to review,” ACA President-CEO Matthew M. Polka said.  “The question of whether broadcasters are colluding is no longer in doubt.  We have the proof, and now the FCC does as well.

“Everything ACA has proposed responds to systemic injurious practices by broadcasters that occur during retransmission consent negotiations, meriting a firm regulatory response to protect the public interest.  Behavior we’re seeing from broadcasters, undeniably motivated by greed, is inconsistent with a competitive marketplace and long-established policy of Congress and the FCC,” Polka added.

ACA pressed the FCC to stipulate that independently owned TV stations that engage in coordinated bargaining are per se violations of their legal obligation to bargain in good faith.

Continue reading this article here:

TV News Check: ACA Asks FCC To End Retrans ‘Price Fixing’

Article: Kerry to Industry: Find Consumer-Friendlier Route to Retrans

John Eggerton
Broadcasting and Cable
November 17, 2010

Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) appeared to achieve what he set out to do–which was to hold a “thoughtful dialog” on the retransmission consent regime–at the Nov. 17 hearing on the issue. By the end, he advised the participants to try to find a way to negotiate those deals that would not result in consumer dislocations. He suggested that if such a solution is not found, the dialog would become government action.

Kerry is chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee, which held the Wednesday hearing. The dialog was among major players on the cable and broadcast sides of the equation.

After hearing from Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge, News Corp. Chairman Chase Carey, Time Warner Cable Chairman Glenn Britt, Univision President Joe Uva and Ovation CEO Charles Segars, Kerry said he would continue to have a private dialog. Continue reading