WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the American Television Alliance (ATVA) called on Congress to condition any small business loan given to broadcasters with a requirement for stations to provide their signals without interruption.
“ATVA has been clear on our position – we do not believe that large broadcast conglomerates should be eligible for funding meant for small businesses in need of relief,” stated Jessica Kendust, ATVA spokesperson. “However, if Congress decides to allocate these critical tax dollars to major broadcasting groups, it should require that they not only provide their signals to all consumers, but also refrain from blacking out their signals to customers of any cable, telco, or satellite provider for three years.”
Congress established the new Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) to provide relief from the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic to small businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Broadcasters now want to change the criteria for extending that relief to make each individual television station in the country its own “business.” This would allow all television stations eligible to compete for funding with the small businesses the Plan was devised to help—even though most television stations are owned by large station groups like Hearst, TEGNA, Sinclair, and Nexstar.
These large station groups do much more than franchise their trademarks to individual stations. By law, they must control each station, including its personnel, programming, and finances. For example, when ATVA members negotiate to carry a station owned by Nexstar, we speak with Nexstar headquarters—never with the individual station general manager. Consequently, it is these major station headquarters who routinely decide to blackout their stations to consumers.
“Broadcasters are claiming that the service they provide is so important to the public interest that taxpayers must preserve it, even if that means providing ‘small business’ loans to multibillion dollar conglomerates,” stated Kendust. “If Congress agrees, it should ensure that such programming remain available to every American, including cable and satellite subscribers who cannot receive it over-the-air. We are not suggesting that broadcasters go uncompensated for providing their signals – but if taxpayer dollars are going to subsidize keeping them on air, then those broadcasters must ensure their signals are actually available to all viewers.
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.