Why is IBEW Supporting Job-Killing Retransmission Consent System?

Yesterday, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) sent a letter to Capitol Hill supporting retransmission consent. “Legislative efforts that undermine retransmission consent would have a negative impact on the livelihoods of IBEW members in the broadcasting industry,” IBEW President Edwin D. Hill wrote.

The irony is that retransmission consent is likely already having a negative impact on these workers.

As SNL Kagan, Free Press and others have pointed out, the explosion in retransmission consent revenues is being used by broadcasters to finance the current wave of television station consolidation. In turn, these broadcasters are slashing jobs at television stations around the country.

For instance, in early August, the AP reported that “Disney has said it expects to boost revenue from so-called ‘retransmission fees’ to $400 million to $500 million annually by 2015.” And yet, just two weeks later, Disney announced it was cutting 175 jobs at the ABC Television Group.  USA Today reported that the “majority of job cuts will be at operations and the eight TV stations it owns in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Raleigh-Durham and Fresno.” And this was on top of Disney’s decision in May to “cut about 400 jobs to manage costs despite rising ad sales and affiliate revenue.”

And then there’s Sinclair, which is purchasing local television stations around the country at breakneck speed and laying off workers right and left. After Sinclair purchased stations in Seattle and Portland recently and fired dozens of local workers, a Seattle Times editorial put it this way:

Welcome to the Northwest, Sinclair. Decimating the soul of this city’s last locally owned commercial TV station is a heck of an introduction.

Those editors, satellite-truck operators, writers and producers are vital to keeping our community informed via the people’s airwaves, which stations are entrusted with to balance profit and public interest.

Free Press reported that Sinclair is “leading the wave of consolidation” and “in the last two years has closed or announced deals that would increase its holdings from 58 to 161 stations nationwide.” In other words, Sinclair’s actions are the norm, not the exception.

Here’s how ACA President Matt Polka put it: “Sinclair’s intent is as clear as it is anti-competitive — to gain insurmountable bargaining leverage over ACA members and stage, when needed, massive and strategically timed blackouts to enhance the receipt of windfall profits.”

It’s unfortunate that IBEW is siding with broadcasters as they increasingly consolidate, slash jobs and black out viewers. We encourage them to reconsider the actual facts rather than broadcaster talking points. The reality of retransmission consent is that it’s not good for anyone except broadcasters.


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