Broadcasters are currently sending so many contradictory messages on the subject of retransmission consent that it’s easy to become confused about what they’re arguing. One the one hand, they’re arguing that the current retransmission consent regime amounts to the “free market.” At the same time, they’re upset that Congress is considering getting government out of mandating what pay-TV distributors “must buy.”
In fact, “upset” is perhaps an understatement. The National Association of Broadcasters is currently engaged in one of the most dubious, Orwellian campaigns of distortion and obfuscation in recent memory. The below tweet from their new group, TV Freedom, indicates exactly how they’re currently talking out of both sides of their mouth.
In response to reports that Congress is actually considering making retransmission consent a little more like the free market, TV Freedom tweeted this:
Residents in rural, severe-weather-prone regions depend on broadcast TV. Tell #payTV they can’t take it away from consumers!
First, broadcasters argue that broadcast TV is “always on” via antenna, so when they suggest that “residents in rural” areas won’t be able to see broadcast TV without pay-TV providers, it undermines the “always on” argument.
But let’s focus on the “free market” argument broadcasters keep making. If Congress eliminates the requirement that pay-TV providers have to include broadcast TV on the “basic tier,” it will simply give consumers the choice of determining if they want to pay for broadcast TV. So broadcasters are arguing that consumers should not have a choice and should be required to pay for what they also frequently refer to as “free TV.”
How is the government requiring that broadcast TV stations be placed on a basic tier even remotely consistent with a free market? And there are several other government regulations regarding retrans that have nothing to with the free market, such as syndicated exclusivity, network non-duplication, etc.
Moreover, the only ones who are ever guilty of “taking away” broadcast TV from consumers are the broadcasters, who regularly black out viewers around the country. They blacked out viewers in more markets (127) than ever before and the problem is just getting worse. And if they’re really concerned about viewers in “severe-weather-prone regions”, shouldn’t they agree to never black out those viewers?
Broadcasters are entitled to their opinions, but not their own facts. To engage in such blatant distortions about what constitutes a “free market” and whether consumers should be required to pay for “free” broadcast TV is shameful.
Congress should continue to pursue reforms bring our video rules into the 21st Century. The broadcasters’ distortions and overblown rhetoric have no place in public policy.