Broadcasters Try to Distract from Overwhelming Conservative Support for Retrans Reform

The broadcasters continue to distort the truth and claim that the current retransmission consent regime somehow amounts to the “free market” regime. And they’ve lately enlisted a couple of conservative voices to similarly falsely claim that a system that gives broadcasters enormous government subsidies and favorable regulations is “free market.”

However, there is an overwhelming chorus of conservative voices who have been calling for retransmission consent for year. Conservative groups are calling for an end to government regulations that tilt the playing field and enable broadcasters to black out viewers whenever their demands aren’t met.

Here’s just a sampling of what conservatives are saying about our outdated TV regulations and the need for retransmission consent reform:

Free Sate Foundation“Refocusing efforts to improve consumer choice by eliminating legacy regulatory distortions in the video marketplace would be an important step in diminishing the likelihood of TV blackouts.”

Adam Thierer, Mercatus Center at George Mason University: “…the current retrans racket gives the broadcasters an increasingly lucrative revenue stream when they deliver content on cable and satellite systems (in addition to the advertising revenues they already receive).”

Citizens Against Government Waste“In retransmission consent negotiations, consumers lose both viewing time and pay increased costs. It is time to repeal antiquated regulatory schemes, including retransmission consent, and provide a new regulatory structure that reflects the current competitive marketplace.”

L. Gordon Crovitz, Wall Street Journal: “The absurdity of the current laws is clear: A regulatory system designed to keep local broadcasts available to viewers is causing disputes between cable companies and broadcasters, leading to the very blackouts the regulations were supposed to prevent. It’s past time to deregulate video distribution.”

National Taxpayers Union: “Because the federal government has created a complex system of laws and regulations dictating the rules of the game, the playing field is strewn with obstacles that increase the likelihood that providers of content and service will end up in a stalemate…Consumers would benefit from a more thoughtful policy approach that respects the private sector’s capacity to build prosperous markets for video content and service and minimizes the role of the federal government.”- NTU

“NTU and its members eagerly await lawmakers’ responses to one of the most urgent tasks facing the future of our nation’s economic prosperity: limiting the burden and interference of government so as to allow the continued development of a robust, competitive telecommunications marketplace. The 21st century arrived more than 10 years ago; it’s time for federal policy to recognize that fact.”- NTU

Taxpayers Protection Alliance“The Taxpayers Protection Alliance has been writing about retransmission consent and the need to update the Cable Act of 1992, and how there is an inherit advantage for broadcasters: leverage in negotiations with monopoly cable providers, granting broadcasters the right to choose between guaranteed carriage or insisting that multichannel video programming distributors (cable and satellite providers) obtain and pay for a station’s consent to retransmit the station to local subscribers.”

American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research: “The outdated 1992 must-carry and retransmission consent rules need repeal. The data suggests the presence of market power that is harming consumers, and policymakers need to fix it now.”

Many of these groups have also endorsed legislative solutions, such as Rep. Steve Scalise’s Next Generation Television Marketplace Act.

Andrew Moylan, R Street Institute“The Next Generation Television Marketplace Act ‘would place negotiators on a level playing field, afford property owners the full right to negotiate for how their property will be used, and all without further empowering the FCC or other arms of the federal government…Hard to argue with that from a free market perspective.’ “

Heritage“In the current conflict between broadcasters and distributors over fees, policymakers should resist the temptation to place their thumbs on the scales in favor of one side. Instead, they should focus on eliminating regulatory impediments in the television marketplace. The legislation offered by Senator DeMint and Representative Scalise offers a good start to that process.”

At the end of the day, reforming retransmission consent amounts to removing outdated and one-sided government regulations. What true conservative wouldn’t be in favor of that?


Broadcasters and the Myth “There is No Such Thing” as Blackouts

Media General and DISH Network are currently involved in a retransmission consent dispute affecting 17 markets. Last week, as a potential hurricane was forming off the Gulf Coast, the American Television Alliance called for Media General to restore its signal so citizens could receive local news and weather information. Media General agreed to restore its signal over the weekend, proving once and for all that TV blackouts do indeed exist and ending a favorite talking point of broadcasters.

“Fundamentally, there is no such thing as a ‘black-out’ of broadcast TV programming,” National Association of Broadcasters Chairman Gordon Smith said recently.  “Our programming is always on, and always available to viewers on multiple platforms, including free to over-the-air antenna households.”

It’s a refrain that broadcasters frequently cite while defending the (broken) retransmission consent system.

But let’s go back to Media General’s decision to restore programming because of the tropical storm that was looming in the Gulf. Why did Media General feel compelled to restore programming if that same programming is “always on”? Obviously, blacking out some citizens during a severe weather situation would have been totally irresponsible (and a public relations disaster), thus proving that it is possible for broadcasters to black out some viewers.

For many Americans, broadcast television is not “always available.” In a must-read letter, Mediacom Senior VP Joseph Young destroys the notion that broadcasters cannot black out viewers:

For many Americans in many parts of the country, off-air reception of broadcast signals is not a viable option because of factors like distance from the broadcast station’s transmitter or obstructions such as mountains, hills and neighboring buildings. Indeed, a service like Aereo, which broadcast interest are spending millions to put out of business, could not continue as a viable business if free off-air reception were a real option in Manhattan or the other markets targeted by Aereo.

Later in the letter, Young brilliantly uses online tools to assess the strength of broadcast television signals in Pendleton, Oregon, where Smith once had his office while serving as U.S. Senator. Young writes: “According to the FCC tool, the signal strength at Mr. Smith’s former office location, even assuming the use of an outdoor antenna 30 feet above ground, was only moderate for the Fox-affiliated station, weak for the ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates and non-existent for the PBS station serving the area.” Obviously, very few people would have a 30-foot above ground outdoor antenna, so, as Young points out, the reception for folks with only in-TV or set-top antennas would be even worse.

The plain truth is that broadcasters desperately depend on pay-TV providers to deliver their programming (and advertising) to 90% of America. When they withhold their programming (and play providers off of one another) in the interests of raising retransmission consent fees, they are blacking out viewers.

Always on? Not really.


Scrooged Across America- Hearst Threatening Retrans Blackouts In Several Markets

Washington D.C.  December 5, 2011 – Hearst Television is already ruining the holiday spirit, threatening to black out stations across the nation to gain leverage in retransmission consent negotiations.   The broadcaster posted online warnings to viewers in at least eight markets late last week, threatening takedowns on multiple cable systems.   Congress and the FCC need to reform outdated rules that give broadcasters the right to hold viewers hostage during business disputes.

Hearst Stations Threatening Blackouts:  KCRA/KQCA (Sacramento), KCCI (Des Moines), WYFF (Greenville), KOCO (Oklahoma City), WGLA (Lancaster, PA), WMUR (Manchester, NH), KLWE/KMBC (Kansas City), KOAT (Albuquerque)

All press inquiries should be directed to Mike Heimowitz at