Stop Broadcasters From Weaponizing Blackouts and Increasing Consumers’ Bills

Broadcasters are padding their purses at the expense of the millions of Americans who subscribe to cable or satellite. How are they doing this? They are using programming blackouts to extort higher fees – fees that consumers end up paying.

Current law provides for broadcasters to be compensated by pay TV providers for the carriage of their signal. Broadcaster blackouts occur when the agreements covering these retransmission consent fees expire, and broadcasters unilaterally remove their channels from TV lineups – essentially holding their channels for ransom in order to extort higher fees from pay TV providers and their customers. The rising cost of programming is the single greatest factor in higher cable and satellite bills.

Broadcasters have caused a record 276 blackouts of cable and satellite providers so far in 2019, which exceeds the previous record of 213 blackouts in 2017. And the retrans fees paid by cable and satellite customers for broadcast channels have increased as well skyrocketing from $200 million in 2006 to 11.7 billion in 2019 – an increase of more than 5,000%!

According to a recent poll by Public Opinion Strategies and David Binder Research found that after hearing this information, 71% of consumers surveyed in the same poll agree that broadcasters should not be able to abuse outdated rules to boost their bottom lines. Additionally, 68% of consumers find the concerns of rising costs and bad faith use of broadcast blackouts convincing as reasons.

While broadcasters are increasingly targeting must see TV and weaponizing blackouts, the consumers who are feeling the pain of these broadcaster blackouts and higher bills, overwhelmingly support reforming the broken retransmission consent system. In fact, according to a recent poll of consumers, a clear majority say broadcasters should not be permitted to pull their signal while negotiating retransmission fees.

With the upcoming expiration of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), Congress has an opportunity to institute reforms and enact more consumer-friendly broadcast distribution laws.  It’s time to start protecting consumers, not broadcasters.

Consumers deserve better. Click here to learn more and take action to stop broadcasters from weaponizing blackouts.

Broadcasters Use Old Myths in Attempt to Keep Video Marketplace Laws Old and Unfair

In a recent Politico article broadcasters made the same tired and false claims in the debate about modernizing America’s video laws to protect consumers from TV blackouts and higher fees.  The last comprehensive reauthorization of U.S. video laws was in 1992, yes 1992.

This year, Congress must reauthorize the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR), or 870,000 satellite subscribers, many in the most rural areas of the country, will lose access to broadcast channels they receive from satellite.

As Congress considers this important legislation, broadcasters are spreading misinformation in their latest attempt to protect the broken retransmission consent process, which one Member of Congress calls a “racket.” The racket is that broadcasters use marquee programming like live sports and award shows to extract higher fees or risk a TV blackout.  Blackouts and consumer retrans fees have soared in recent years, as broadcasters seek to replace lost advertising profits.

The American Television Alliance (ATVA) supports the reauthorization of STELAR so rural America can continue receiving all their broadcast channels, but also believes it is way past time to modernize retransmission consent rules which currently favor broadcasters at the expense of consumers and competition.  As this debate begins, policymakers deserve to know the truth about the myths they’ll hear from broadcasters:     

Broadcaster Myth: TV viewers will not be negatively impacted if Congress fails to reauthorize STELAR.

Fact: If Congress fails to re-authorize STELAR, at least 870,000 consumers, mostly in rural areas, would lose broadcast channels from satellite.

Broadcaster Myth: Retrans fees are not a problem because they are less than those charged for some cable channels.

Fact: Retrans fees charged by broadcasters are for channels that are supposed to be provided FREE in exchange for the U.S. government (and taxpayers) providing FREE high-value spectrum to broadcasters for the distribution of local news and other public-interest programming.  Moreover, unlike cable channels, pay TV providers MUST CARRY local broadcast stations under the ancient provisions of the 1992 Cable Act.  Finally, retrans fees are the fastest rising part of consumers’ cable bills, skyrocketing from about $500 million in 2008 to $10.1 billion in 2018, or 1,920%.  These skyrocketing retrans fees are directly responsible for fueling the blackout crisis and are ultimately passed on to consumers.

Broadcaster Myth: Even if STELAR were to be reauthorized, it should be a clean reauthorization with no additional policy updates that could modernize the television marketplace.

Fact: Dozens of policy changes have been included in previous reauthorizations to help consumers.  This should be no different.

Broadcaster Myth:  The retransmission consent regime is working the way it’s supposed to because television blackouts are rare.

Fact: Wrong.  Since 2010, millions of Americans have seen dark screens instead of watching their favorite channels due to more than 1,000 broadcaster-initiated blackouts.  The number of blackouts went from only 8 in 2010 to a record setting 213 in 2017.  Furthermore, the threat of a blackout can be enough to extort higher fees that are ultimately paid by subscribers.

Additionally, retrans fees were supposed to fund things like local news and local programming. In reality, what local stations claim is local often isn’t local at all, because they are owned by large publicly traded corporations that control dozens of stations across the country. Rather than airing local news, big broadcasters are increasingly relying on syndication services to broadcast the same exact thing in hundreds of local TV markets.

Trust But Verify on New Broadcast Standard

Next week federal regulators at the FCC will consider a new broadcast standard called ATSC 3.0, the so-called “Next Gen” TV standard.   If implemented properly, the Next Gen transition could have some important benefits to consumers, including access to higher quality video, immersive sound and more efficient use of broadcast spectrum.  Technological innovation is a win for consumers, but new broadcast standards should not increase consumer costs or include new mandates on pay TV providers.

It’s been almost a decade since the transition to Digital HD broadcast signals.  But whereas the DTV received years of planning, intense media scrutiny and two separate acts of Congress to implement, the ATSC 3.0 transition is occurring largely unnoticed.  While the transition may improve broadcast service, it could also harm consumers if not managed properly.

In previous filings we asked the Commission to ensure two overriding policy objectives in regard to the Next Generation Broadcast transition: that the transition is completely voluntary for all participants, and that the new standard does not harm others in the television ecosystem by imposing new cost burdens on consumers and other participants.

Decisions impacting millions of American consumers require a ‘trust but verify’ approach.  We look forward to working with the Commission to ensure the new broadcast standards do not result in higher bills for consumers, more broadcaster initiated blackouts and other loss of service.

Broadcasters do not operate in a vacuum, and they do not have the right to impose new costs or burdens on consumers and other market participants.  ATVA has been working with the FCC on these important issues on behalf of all TV viewers.  We will continue to work with the Commission to protect consumers from harm during the transition.

Broadcasters can transition to ATSC 3.0 without causing any of these problems—but only if the FCC takes affirmative steps to protect consumers from harm.

Setting the Record Straight on ATSC 3.0: Put Consumers First

The American Television Alliance (ATVA) for the past five years has been the leading voice for consumers in the battle against skyrocketing retrans fees and egregious broadcaster TV blackouts.  In a recent filing with the Federal Communications Commission we raised a series of questions about a proposal known as ATSC 3.0 that could significantly raise the costs to consumers of receiving broadcast television either over-the-air or from a pay-TV provider.

If implemented properly, the proposal in question could have some important benefits to consumers, including access to higher quality 4K video and immersive sound, and more efficient spectrum.  This innovative technology is a good thing for consumers, and ATVA isn’t trying to stop it. In fact, ATVA is working with the FCC to weigh all of the significant factors, because that’s exactly what Americans deserve.

ATVA is just the latest in a wide range of diverse groups to weigh in on the new standard, including the National Association of Broadcasters own members, who have publicly expressed concerns about moving forward with the new standard.

Consumer advocate groups such as Public Knowledge have called on broadcasters to continue meeting their public interest obligations, regardless of changes to the technology used to deliver signals.  Other groups have also expressed concerns related to ATSC 3.0 recently.  Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty notes that the “first nationwide upgrade from analog to digital in 2009 wound up costing the federal government $1.3 billion in vouchers for low-income families.” Timothy Lee with the Center for Individual Freedom points out that “consumers who currently receive local stations over the air or via cable or satellite providers suddenly would face the possibility of incurring the cost of new equipment in order to receive the new signal.”

In addition to the fees that consumers could incur as a result of purchasing new equipment, ATSC 3.0 carriage could be leveraged by broadcasters to extract yet even more retrans fees that could be passed on to consumers.  Those concerns and the others impacting access and consumer cost burdens should all give us pause to consider their full impact.

Fees charged by broadcasters to transmit what is supposed to be free over the air signals are the fastest rising part of consumers’ TV bills.  Broadcasters have increased total retransmission consent fees more than 22,000 percent since 2005, according to publicly available data.  SNL Kagan, for example, predicts that retransmission consent fees will total more than $11.6 billion in the next five years.

We have to take the Ronald Reagan approach in this case: “Trust but verify.”  This is a very big deal for everyone who watches TV in the United States and will have major implications for consumer costs and access.  And for this reason, ATVA has pledged to work with the FCC to ensure that costs associated with the transition to ATSC 3.0 do not fall at the feet of consumers.

We welcome a conversation with the NAB and federal regulators to address the concerns for consumers that we put forward in our recent filing.

Trent Duffy is the National Spokesman for the American Television Alliance, a coalition of consumer groups, cable, satellite, telephone companies and independent programmers raising awareness about why TV blackouts are happening and what can be done to stop them.  

FCC Poised to Take Action to Protect Consumers from Blackouts

With consumer TV blackouts surging and retrans fees increasing at unsustainable rates, Congress recognized that the existing rules and regulations governing retransmission consent negotiations are not working.  In legislation passed at the end of 2014, Congress directed the FCC to commence a rulemaking to examine what constitutes “good faith” in retransmission consent negotiations.

ATVA filed its reply comments today, responding to the National Association of Broadcasters’ audacious suggestion that “the retransmission consent market has finally begun to work.”

The retrans system is working for broadcast executives, who are lining their pockets with unjust fees for free TV.  But for the more than 12 million American households – 1-in-8 Pay TV subscribers – that have been impacted by a TV blackout in 2015, the system is broken.

The cash grab for retrans dollars is driving the TV blackout epidemic.  Retrans fees have climbed 40 percent each of the past three years – costs that are ultimately borne by consumers.  At the same time, consumer blackouts have also spiked.  Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reported today that “TV Viewers Endured Record Number of Blackouts in 2015.”  Broadcasters pulled the plug on American consumers 193 times in 2015, a new single-calendar year record.

Indeed, In the 45 days since initial comments on the rulemaking were due, broadcasters blacked out their signal 17 more times.  So far in 2016, broadcasters have pulled the plug on consumers in 14 markets, holding programming like NFL playoff games and the Golden Globe Awards hostage.  Unfortunately, this is business as usual for broadcasters.

In the reply comments, more than 3,300 consumers affected by broadcaster blackouts voiced their opinions to the FCC.  Below are a few examples of what outraged viewers are saying:

  • “I am afraid as right now I have no local news. What if there is a real security issue for the nation or my local area?  I will not know.  This leaves me very vulnerable. I am shocked this is happening in our great USA.”
  • “We pay for free TV stations on a monthly basis therefore why do they have the option to blackout stations that are on air for free if you don’t subscribe to a cable or satellite provider. ARE WE BEING HELD HOSTAGE FOR SUBSCRIBING TO CABLE/SATELLITE PROVIDERS. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE ELECTION DEBATES ARE HELD AND WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO FOLLOW CANDIATES.”[sic]
  • “Forget about losing our favorite television stations. The consumer is being blocked from local news, for which there is no excuse. Should a local emergency arise, blocking local channels could result in bodily harm and property damage which would lead to litigation and rightfully so. This simply has to stop. There IS an obligation to the consumer. It is a right and not a privilege to view my local stations, particularly when I am paying for it.”
  • “I work hard for my money and pay my bill to the satellite company so my retired dad can watch his favorite shows during the day, and I can come home in the evening and enjoy some favorite programs myself, including Wheel of Fortune and NCIS. Thanks to some broken down communications over which I had no control, we can no longer watch these and many other programs shown on our local channel 11 (CBS). It is not right for the consumer to be harmed due to the greed of large companies playing hardball with their contracts. Please fix these issues so we can get back to enjoying the programs we want.”

The Congress gave the FCC new, specific authority to address retransmission consent abuse.  ATVA is confident that after the FCC completes its thorough examination of the video marketplace, it will agree with our conclusions: the retransmission consent system is broken and the FCC can and should take concrete, decisive steps to fix the situation and protect innocent consumers.

FACT CHECK: Broadcasters Claim Retrans System is Working. 12 million consumer blackouts prove otherwise

In comments to the FCC this week, the National Association of Broadcasters had the audacity to suggest that “the retransmission consent market has finally begun to work.”  If you are a broadcast executive, lining your pockets with unjust fees for free TV, of course you think the system is working.

But what about the 12 million American households – 1-in-8 Pay TV subscribers – that have been impacted by a TV blackout in 2015?  Or the fact that retrans fees have climbed 40% each of the past three years – costs that are ultimately borne by consumers?  The retrans system is decidedly not working for the American television consumer.

Not only are the retrans fees demanded by broadcasters skyrocketing, the number of blackouts in 2015 set a record.  TV blackouts caused by broadcasters are out of control.   In 2010 there were only eight blackouts.  Less than five years later, we’ve already had 189 blackouts.

NAB will do everything in its power to change the subject and distract policymakers and consumers in order to protect their monopolies and the retrans gravy train.  The simple fact is that there are at least three Pay TV options for consumers in every market – and in many instances four providers – unlike the broadcast affiliates which operate as monopolies and hide behind government handouts and protections from competition.

The current retrans system isn’t working.  Broadcasters need a reality check.  Congress asked the FCC to take a look at this issue for a reason: it’s broken.

Broadcasters’ Hypocrisy on Royalties Reaches New Heights

In recent weeks, broadcasters have intensified their campaign to lobby Congress to prevent any compensation to artists whose songs are played on local radio. They have found several cosponsors willing to sign onto their Orwellian-named Local Radio Freedom Act.

It’s truly stunning that broadcasters can keep a straight face as they tell musicians, “You’ll get nothing and like it.”

After all, as broadcasters continue to demand that musicians be grateful for the exposure that radio gives them, they at the same time, insist that they’re not being fairly compensated by pay-TV providers for broadcast programming.

A Nielsen has found, “more than 95 percent of Americans” watch TV via cable, satellite or IPTV. So if promotion is so important to musicians, then shouldn’t the broadcasters be thrilled with reaching 95 percent of the U.S. TV audience.  Especially when it’s incredibly difficult to watch broadcast TV via an antenna.

As broadcasters claim that paying musicians will result in lost jobs and call royalties an “unfair tax,” they’re demanding bigger and bigger retransmission consent fees. In recent days some of the biggest broadcasters have bragged to investors about their increasing quarterly earnings due to higher retransmission consent fees.  CBS Les Moonves – who famously said of royalties to musicians, “The idea that we have to pay them to put their music on our radio stations is absurd” – even boasted about the reverse retransmission consent coming back to New York.

Moonves may think performance royalties are absurd, but he has no problem demanding them from pay-TV customers. Could broadcasters like Moonves be any more hypocritical?


For years, broadcasters have tried to delay any meaningful retransmission consent reform. There’s wide, bipartisan consensus that the current system isn’t working and needs to be reformed. With skyrocketing retrans fees and blackouts, something has to change.

During two years’ worth of discussions on Capitol Hill about the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR), the broadcasters repeatedly insisted that STELAR wasn’t the appropriate vehicle for retransmission consent reform.

In August, then-Chairman Rockefeller and Ranking Member Thune introduced an innovative bipartisan proposal called “Local Choice,” that let consumers decide which local TV stations they wish to pay for. (ATVA continues to support this proposal.)

At the time, broadcasters howled that there wasn’t enough time for Congress to consider Local Choice.

“This proposal represents a significant rewrite of the Communications Act. Given the shortness of time between now and the end of the Congressional session, we question whether there is sufficient time for key committees in Congress to give this proposal the thorough review that is warranted,” said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton.

Local Choice was eventually removed from STELAR.

As Congress considers an overhaul of the Communications Act, there is ample time for a thorough examination of retransmission consent, Local Choice, and other video reforms. After all, broadcasters themselves said they’d support such conversations.

“As to any other broader changes to broadcasting rules, NAB firmly believes those should be debated as part of the comprehensive Communications Act update, recently launched by Chairmen Upton and Walden,” said then-NAB Board Member Marci Burdick in testimony last March.

She also stated: “If your goal is regulatory parity between the various video platforms seated at this table, a comprehensive examination in the Communications Act update is the only way to achieve it.”

So what do you say, broadcasters? Can we finally get started talking about retransmission consent reform? Or were those just disingenuous stall tactics?

TabletTV Perfectly Illustrates Broadcasters’ Hypocrisy

More proof that “free TV” is anything but “free”…

Broadcaster group TVFreedom announced the addition of a new member, TabletTV, a company that makes essentially what is a TV antenna for tablet devices. This follows on the heels of TVFreedom’s publicity stunt with another member, Antennas Direct, to pass out enormous “free” antennas.

Consumers who want “free” TV using TabletTV only have to plunk down $90 to hook up one tablet. Each device a consumer wants to use will require a new antenna.

TabletTV is actually owned by Granite Broadcasting and a technology company. Meaning that after broadcasters sued Aereo out of existence, they created their own version, allowing them to pocket all the money that consumers have to pay for “free” TV.

It is virtually impossible to watch broadcast TV without buying some sort of external antenna. Broadcasters themselves apparently have to rely on some serious rooftop hardware just to watch local TV at their Washington headquarters.

It’s time for broadcasters to stop the “free” TV charade. Pay-TV consumers will have to pay $25 billion over the next five years to broadcasters for “free” TV. And anyone else will have to pay for a special antenna just to receive a basic signal. There’s nothing “free” about “free TV.”

By the way, is there anything more outdated than TV antennas? And yet broadcasters are doubling down on them?

TV broadcasters can dress up 1950’s technology in 21st Century clothes, but they’re still doing anything they can to stop real video innovation.


Scalise Lauds House Passage of STELA Reauthorization

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) today released the following statement regarding House passage of H.R. 4572, the Satellite Television Access Reauthorization Act.

“I commend my colleagues in the House for passing this much-needed bipartisan legislation that provides certainty to 1.5 million satellite consumers nationwide at risk of losing their broadcast TV programming and modernizes some of the outdated laws governing today’s video marketplace,” Rep. Scalise said. “Over the last several decades, communications and entertainment technology has evolved at a rapid pace, while the laws and regulations governing those technologies have remained relatively unchanged. This legislation is an important first step toward creating a truly competitive 21st century video marketplace for American consumers and all stakeholders.

“I enjoyed working with Chairmen Upton and Walden, and ranking members Waxman and Eshoo on a number of targeted reforms in this bill and I thank them and the leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee for including them in this bipartisan agreement. I urge the Senate to pass this legislation without delay.”