Broadcasters have lately been parading as advocates for TV viewer “freedom.” We don’t know what kind of Fantasy Land they come from, but in the real-world abusing outdated rules to raise revenues at the cost of the viewers’ experience is far from freedom. We are exposing their use of the “f” word and other broadcaster fantasies, with the hope that Congress and the FCC will reform video rules for the world we live in today, not 1992 or some other fantasy land.
BROADCASTER FANTASY: Broadcast TV is “free.”
REALITY: Broadcasters are collecting billions of dollars in retransmission consent fees for their programming. Since the government requires cable providers to make broadcast TV part of every basic tier, viewers who are pay TV subscribers have no choice but to pay for this “free” programming. And over the next five years, broadcasters are slated to pocket another $24 billion in retrans fees.
BROADCASTER FANTASY: Broadcast TV is “always on.”
REALITY: For the 90% of Americans who are pay TV subscribers, broadcast TV is always subject to blackouts—more now than ever. And until retransmission rules get updated, broadcasters can continue pulling the plug. As much as they try to pretend blackouts are caused by pay TV providers, the fact is broadcasters control the signal. They cause blackouts and they could totally prevent them. But then, they’d lose one of their favorite pressure tactics for collecting ever higher retrans fees.
BROADCASTER FANTASY: Retrans is the “free market.”
REALITY: The government requires that broadcast TV stations be placed on a basic tier, forcing cable subscribers to purchase “free” over-the-air broadcast signals, even if they don’t want them. A free market cannot exist for video when there are such rules explicitly labeled “must buy.” And there are several other government regulations regarding retrans that don’t come close to a free market, such as syndicated exclusivity, network non-duplication, etc.
BROADCASTER FANTASY: Blackouts are caused by pay-TV providers.
REALITY: Pay-TV providers would not want risk losing customers by blacking them out, just as they don’t want to risk losing customers over skyrocketing retrans fees. Moreover, the smaller pay-TV companies have no choice but to give into the demands of broadcasters because they don’t have the resources to fight back against broadcaster extortion. And don’t forget, it takes two to negotiate, broadcasters are involved in 100% of retrans disputes!! Read more.
BROADCASTER FANTASY: Joint ownership arrangements foster diversity and localism.
REALITY: A 2012 Pew Research Center report found that since 2005, local news coverage of government and politics is down 50%. A 2011 FCC report found that 21% of commercial TV stations don’t air any local news at all and 33% air 30 minute or less of local news.
BROADCASTER FANTASY: FCC’s crackdown on “sidecar” arrangements will kill jobs.
REALITY: “Sidecars” often result in lost jobs, as programming is consolidated among the stations and there is less of a commitment for truly local programming and a need for those employees.