Broadcasters Jack Up Fees While Ratings Plummet

Pew Research Shows Nightly News Viewers Down 31% since 2007; Retrans fees rose 2,426% in same period

Washington, D.C. – Broadcasters continue to charge pay-TV subscribers ever-increasing fees for ‘free TV’ as the number of people watching local news has plummeted, concludes a new study by Pew Research on current trends in local television.  According to the analysis, in 2016, viewership for network local affiliate news stations (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) declined in key time slots – morning, early evening and late night, according to Pew’s analysis of Nielsen data. The report found that, “since 2007, the average audience for late night newscasts has declined 31%, while morning audience declined 12% and early evening audience fell 19%.”  In that same period, retrans fees increased 2,426% (no, that’s not a typo) rising from $314 million in 2007 to $7.933 billion in 2016.

“Broadcasters have perfected the art of how to make good money in bad faith,” said ATVA national spokesman Trent Duffy.  “Charging cable and satellite subscribers higher and higher fees to access broadcast stations with plunging viewership is an outrage.  In a free market, when demand for a product or service falls, so should the price.  In fact, there is an inverse relationship between viewership and price for broadcasters. Why? Because broadcasters use the threat of a station blackout to coerce payments of higher and higher fees.”

Retrans fees continue to skyrocket, and are expected to soar to $12.8 billion by 2023, an 18 percent increase from 2016 levels, according to a recent market report from SNL Kagan.

The Pew study is another compelling reason why the FCC should review the ancient rules on retransmission consent, must carry, government-backed exclusivity and other broadcast industry giveaways.  These government advantages are directly responsible for skyrocketing fees and the record pace of station blackouts this year.

2017 is on pace to have the most TV blackouts ever in a single year.  Broadcasters have pulled the plug on consumers 145 times so far this year, leaving consumers in the dark for nearly every marquee television event this year, including: Super Bowl, NFL and College Football post season games, the Grammys, and network TV premiers earlier this year.  Absent reform from Congress and the Federal Communications Commission, consumers can expect to see more blank screens in the coming month as broadcasters continue to demand more in fees.

These troubling trends should erase any doubts about the necessity for strong Commission oversight during the proposed NextGenTV transition.


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.

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