The Truth about Broadcasters’ “Free TV” Campaign

Broadcasters are running ads falsely claiming that pay-TV providers are trying to “cripple free TV” for “nearly 60 million Americans.” In fact, when you break down the script for their TV ad, it’s clear that they’re more interested in repeating the same falsehoods and distortions for the sake of profits, rather than helping consumers. This campaign is really designed to discourage Congress from updating our TV rules, specifically “retransmission consent,” which were created decades ago and which now allow broadcasters to take billions for TV that was originally “free.”

SCRIPT:Nearly 60 million Americans depend on free local TV…”
FACT: The 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. Even CBS CEO Les Moonves, recently said, “[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.”

SCRIPT: “…news, sports, weather emergencies…”
FACT: Because of retransmission consent, local TV stations have become mere franchisees of the Big Four Broadcasters (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox). Today, there’s roughly a 7% chance your local television station is locally owned. Furthermore, a 2011 FCC study found that 32% of local TV stations “did not air a single minute of news programming” and only one in two stations even shows local news. As for weather emergencies, broadcasters want you to ignore that new mobile technology and social media innovation are also effective at warning Americans during emergencies.

SCRIPT: “…especially diverse communities…”
FACT: Retransmission consent has absolutely destroyed diversity. In 2006, out of the 1,349 commercial TV stations, 44 were owned by minorities. Today, that number is down to just 5. As FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn put it, “The numbers are trending incredibly downward.”

SCRIPT: “…rural towns, the elderly.”
FACT: If broadcasters really cared about these populations, they wouldn’t subject them to blackouts and high fees. They blacked out viewers a record 127 times last year. Further, by squatting on up to $1 trillion worth of spectrum, the broadcasters are preventing rural residents — and everyone else — from receiving faster wireless broadband service.

SCRIPT: They save thousands every year on cable and satellite bills, pay-TV providers don’t like that.”
FACT: Pay-TV providers simply want to give consumers the option of whether to purchase “free” over-the-air broadcast TV channels, which broadcasters oppose. They are projected to make $25 billion over the next five years for channels that used to be free to all Americans and they’re desperate to protect these profits.

SCRIPT: They’re pushing Washington to change the rules and cripple free TV.”
FACT: In 1992, broadcasters lobbied Congress to change the rules to make pay-TV customers pay for “free” TV. Updating retransmission consent would in no way affect free, over-the-air TV. Pay-TV providers want to update the rules to give consumers the choice of whether they want to pay for broadcast TV channels, something broadcasters oppose.

SCRIPT: Call Congress, tell them to stand up for 60 million Americans and stand up to pay-TV providers. Don’t mess with free TV.”
FACT: Retransmission consent killed “free” TV and broadcasters know it. They don’t really care about the small percentage of Americans who watch TV over-the-air. Updating retransmission consent would not affect those viewers, anyway. Instead, broadcasters want to maintain their stranglehold on the government rules that enable them to make billions for broadcast TV channels that use to be free.

It’s time for consumers to see who’s really behind rising cable and satellite bills and TV blackouts. Call Congress and ask them to update our TV rules to the 21st Century. Maybe then broadcasters will focus on providing better local television instead of worrying about retransmission consent profits.

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