Should the U.S. Government Ban TV Blackouts?

Should the U.S. Government Ban TV

Cable lobbying org calls on FCC to let operators continue carrying broadcast stations during contract fights

Does Uncle Sam need to step in to make sure consumers can watch the boob tube without interruption?

American regulators should adopt rules forbidding TV blackouts, according to a cable lobbying group — but broadcasters rejected the call, which would eliminate their leverage in contract disputes.

The current CBS blackout on Time Warner Cable systems in New York, L.A. and Dallas, now in its 21st day, is only the latest and highest-profile spat that illustrates a chronic problem with the current retransmission-consent system, American Cable Assn. prexy Matt Polka wrote in a letter Thursday to the Federal Communications Commission.

“Without action by policymakers to change the laws governing these negotiations there will undoubtedly be many more blackouts,” Polka said in the letter to FCC interim chairman Mignon Clyburn.

As a remedy, the ACA proposed that the FCC adopt a rule mandating that broadcasters and pay TV operators continue to offer a broadcast station’s signal to consumers after an existing retrans-consent agreement expires, while the terms of a new agreement are worked out. A cable or satellite operator would pay rates under the previous contract, with a retroactive “true-up” once a new deal is signed.

SEE ALSO: Why the FCC Is Not Taking Action to End the CBS Blackout on Time Warner Cable

Such a measure would focus “on the narrow need to ensure consumers have continued access to broadcast stations while parties continue to negotiate,” said Polka, whose group reps small cable operators.

The FCC declined to comment on ACA’s letter.

Broadcasters say the FCC doesn’t have the authority to make such rules under the 1992 Cable Act — and they oppose any expansion of the agency’s powers in this area.

According to a CBS rep, for such change to happen Congress would need to pass legislation to give the FCC “this type of oversight.” The FCC itself has said it does not believe it has the authority to “adopt either interim carriage mechanisms or mandatory binding dispute resolution procedures.”

But ACA argued that the commission has the latitude to “govern the exercise” of retransmission consent rights, and that “plainly includes the power to adopt whatever remedial measures may be necessary to protect the public from harm, including dispute resolution procedures and interim carriage requirements,” Polka said.

SEE ALSO: Time Warner Cable Subscribers Sue Over CBS, Showtime Blackout

Broadcasters assert that the current retrans system works, with the threat of a blackout a powerful bargaining chip they need to successfully negotiate deals. They also point to the deal announced Thursday between the Eye and Verizon Communications, which according to CBS CEO Les Moonves has almost exactly the same terms as the one extended to Time Warner Cable.

Dennis Wharton, exec VP of communications for National Assn. of Broadcasters, said the ACA’s proposal would “inject government mandates into private business negotiations.”

“As today’s successfully concluded free market Verizon FIOS/CBS carriage deal suggests, there is tremendous incentive for both broadcasters and pay TV providers to reach retransmission consent agreements,” he said. “It is our hope that the FCC resists this cynical campaign to deny local broadcasters fair market value for our most-watched programming.”

In other countries, regulatory bodies do have rules forbidding blackouts. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, for example, recently implemented a “standstill” rule — mandating that TV signals must continue to be carried during a dispute, according to Chris Edwards, VP corporate and regulatory affairs for the Canadian Cable Systems Alliance trade group. The CRTC also requires all industry participants including broadcast networks to submit to its dispute-resolution processes.

U.S. television broadcasters have a public obligation to provide free, over-the-air television in the spectrum the government granted them rights to. But under current framework, they are free to demand any payment and terms from a pay TV provider as long as they’re deemed to be negotiating in “good faith.”

The number of TV blackouts in the U.S. has been on the rise, as broadcasters seek bigger payments from cable, satellite and telco operators. In 2012, 91 retransmission-consent disputes resulted in blackouts, up 78% from the prior year, according to industry figures.

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  1. eqquesz says:

    CBS executive can now feel the fight of being censored by monetary means- I don’t feel sorry for any of them.

  2. FrankM says:

    No, the government should not ban TV blackouts.

    The government should be forcing MVPDs to disclose when their current agreements expire with each channel. They don’t have to disclose cost, just when the contract is good through. (Put it on your website!) Consumers have a right to know when their favorite channels may be dropped by their provider. This would encourage retransmission agreements to be worked out years in advance — making blackouts rare. How? If you are about to sign up with directv for a 2-year plan and you see that their contract only lasts another 14 months with Fox, FX FXX, FXM, et al. you may be able to change the terms of your contract before it begins, or you can choose a competitor instead.

  3. Here’s my own opinion and theory to retransmission consent:

    This is an excuse for the broadcasters and broadcasting groups and all of their head executives wanting to try to be way too big being the Wal-Mart’s, the Marlboro’s, the Joe Camel’s, the Paramount Pictures with the movie theater chain of the 1940’s, the Morris Levy’s when he was part of Roulette Records, the Clive Davis’s when he was at Columbia Records in the 1970′s, the Neil Bogart’s of Casablanca Records fame of the 1970′s disco era, the Trinity Broadcasting Network’s, the David Smith (one of the Smith brothers from Sinclair Broadcast Group), the Perry Sock and the Nexstar Broadcasting Group, the Harry Pappas as part of the Pappas Telecasting Companies, the Bernard Madoff’s, the Enron’s, the Worldcom’s, the Adelphia’s, the Tyco’s, the Martha Stewart’s, the Jill Kelley’s, the Orie sister’s, the Teresa and Joe Giudice’s, and the Jesse Jackson Jr’s, of the 2000′s by letting broadcast greed get out of control so all of the head employees and bosses at the broadcasting groups to be able to enjoy carefree lavishly spending to support carefree lavishly lifestyles with luxurious homes, luxurious jets, luxurious cars, luxurious furs, luxurious jewelry, join luxurious clubs, go to luxurious hotels, go to luxurious casinos to do gambling, go to horse races, throw luxurious parties, and have other luxurious items just to make them very happy then trying and willingness to improve the quality of all the stations they owned and control and making the viewers happy as well. I hope and I wish that the broadcasters and all of their head executives get scolded by both by the ACA and the FCC for making the viewers being forced to deal with this blackout because they could not make a deal to get the stations back to it’s customers sooner and with a fair deal with cable and satellite. I hope and I wish that the broadcasters and all of their head executives is barred from buying and owning anymore TV stations in the future after their final dec ision to remove the stations from cable and satellite. I feel that the broadcasters and all of their head executives are trying to bribe like the General Tire/RKO General of the 1960′s and 1970′s by not being very honest of not only the viewers by making them miss the shows on cable and satellite and also on themselves with the force of demanding cable and satellite to pay up in the retransmission consent to continue to carry the stations.

    I hope and I wish that the FCC would force the broadcasters and all of their head executives to allow cable and satellite to carry it’s stations without any interference, in the event the broadcasters and all of their head executives fails to allow cable and satellite to carry it’s stations again, then the FCC would force the broadcasters and all of their head executives to allow cable and satellite to import out of market stations that are very real close to the station being blacked out being affiliated with the same network, in the event the broadcasters and all of their head executives fails to allow cable and satellite to import out of market stations that are very real close to the station being blacked out being affiliated with the same network, then the FCC would allow Time Warner Cable to carry the out of market station with the same affiliation without any restrictions and also be allowed to continue to carry the out of market station that it’s digital television signal is reachable by a outdoor antenna including both it’s SD and HD feeds on the cable and satellite service system even after the dispute is over without any interference for 12 whole years to meet FCC rules and regulators.

    This is an excuse for the broadcasters and broadcasting groups and all of their head executives wanting to be too big being way too busy trying to act like the Baauer’s, the PSY’s, the Carly Rae Jepsen’s, the Tay Allyn’s, the Nicole Westbrook’s, the Rebecca Black’s, the Double Take’s, and the Guns N Roses Axl Rose as well as trying to be the Conrad Murray’s, the Pete Rose’s and the Alex Rodriguez’s as the cheaters, the Jerry Sandusky’s as the assaulters, the Jodi Arias’s, the Casey Anthony’s, the Charles Starkweather’s, the Charles Manson’s, the Lyle and Erik Menendez’s, the O. J. Simpson’s, the Scott Peterson’s, and the Drew Peterson’s as the greedy murderers, the Alfonzo Dennard’s, the Jeremy Dobbe’s, the Jeffrey Ireland’s, the Amanda Bynes’s and the Lindsay Lohan’s as the drunk and the drug abusers, the Rodney Dangerfield’s, the John Belushi’s, and the Chris Farley’s as the comedians, (all real life people) the Gordon Gekko’s, the Victoria Grayson’s, the Victor Newman’s/the Jack Abbott’s, the J. R. Ewing’s/the Cliff Barnes’s, th e Charles Montgomery Burn’s/ the Mayor Quimby’s, the Homer and Bart Simpson’s, the Peter Griffin’s, the Mickey Mouse’s/the Minnie Mouse’s, the Bugs Bunny’s/the Daffy Duck’s/the Porky Pig’s, the Garfield cat’s, the Cookie Monster’s, the Miss Piggy’s, and the Pillsbury Doughboy’s, (all fictional characters) of the broadcasting industry of not coming to reach a deal with cable and satellite to carry it’s stations to the viewers with cable and satellite everyday.

    This is an excuse for the broadcasters and broadcasting groups and all of their head executives trying to turn into the 1919 Chicago White Sox’s baseball team and the Southern Methodist University football team of the 1980′s to force cable and satellite to accept a take it or leave it deal to carry it’s stations.

    Cable and satellite are useful for carrying stations to inform viewers for news and weather reports and also for all minories. I feel that all of the fat cat politicians and the fat cat television broadcast station owner and parent want to see and force all of the cable and satellite operators to pay up a lot more money for the rights to carry local stations so all of the fat cat politicians and the fat cat television broadcast station owner and parent can have carefree lavish spending to fully support their endless greedy lavish lifestyles for their own political gain by way of block booking and extortion is so very shameful and so very disgraceful in my own personal opinion and theory. I feel all the today’s fat cat politicians have never learned from various scandals happening in the past. Have those fat cat broadcasters and fat cat politicians learned from the Paramount Pictures practice of block booking with theatrical theatres of the 1940’s, No, the General Tire/RKO General broadcasting license scandal of the 1960’s and the 1970’s, No, the Southern Methodist University football scandal of the 1980’s, No, the Pete Rose betting scandal in baseball of the late 1980’s, No. These are examples of what I feel that all of the fat cat broadcasters and the fat cat politicians are trying to do to attack cable and satellite providers to pressure them to carry stations with the use of retransmission consent.

    I feel that all of the broadcasters and broadcasting groups including Sinclair with David Smith, Nexstar with Perry Sook, Gannett, Tribune, Young, Cordillera, Pappas with Harry Pappas, Stainless/Northwest with Brian Brady and other too many to think of having the supreme dominance of forcing cable and satellite by the use of block booking in the cable industry by barring them from carrying out of market stations by only allowing them to carry their in market stations including cable systems being in markets where the in market stations is further than the out of market station that is closer to the cable system by air miles.

    People may not agree with my opinion and theory to retransmission consent buy my fear is that i feared broadcasters and broadcasting groups may abuse and misuse the retransmission consent payment option to cable/satellite/Aereo as a way for all the head executives from those broadcasting companies to use it on their habit of lavish spending to support their greedy piggish selfish lavish lifestyles just to make all of them happy than trying to improve the quality of all the television stations they own and manage.

    • According to the website for Reason magazine, the 1992 Cable Act is to blame for this mess. Previously, cable companies did not have to pay for broadcast signals. TV stations should be grateful that cable companies enable more people to tune in their programs (More viewers equals more advertising revenue).

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