Broadcasters are currently running a national ad campaign trying to scare viewers into thinking that pay-TV providers are trying to “cripple free TV” for “nearly 60 million Americans.” That 60 million figure is based on a dubious broadcaster-funded study that found that 19.3 percent of homes are broadcast-TV only. Virtually every other source has placed that number between 5 and 10 percent, such as Nielsen, which reports that “more than 95 percent of Americans” watch TV with cable or satellite. But how about we just consider the words of CBS CEO Les Moonves, who said on Tuesday, “[R]ight now, almost 90% of the people watching CBS are watching from satellite, cable or telco, so in essence we are not so much an over-the-air broadcast. You can still get it, but a very low percentage of our viewers get their content that way.”
Broadcasters can’t have it both ways. They can’t claim to be serving millions of Americans and in need of government subsidies on the one hand, while claiming to be essentially cable networks when it comes to other matters.
Regardless, it’s important to keep in mind that updating retransmission consent to the 21st Century would in no way affect free, over-the-air television — unless the broadcasters themselves pull the plug.