Broadcasters Launch Group to ‘Tell the Truth’ About Cable, Satellite Operators

Broadcasters Launch Group to "Tell the Truth" About Cable Operators

Broadcast network affiliates and station groups are launching a new coalition, TVfreedom.org, designed to counter the influence of cable and satellite operators in retransmission disputes, some of which have resulted in high-profile blackouts in major markets.

The organization was formed as cable and satellite firms have been pressuring Congress to look at changing regulations governing retransmission consent negotiations, arguing that they are outmoded and unfairly give broadcasters more leverage in such disputes. After CBS stations disappeared from Time Warner Cable systems for nearly a month last year, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) introduced legislation to give the FCC interim authority to grant carriage of a station during a dispute over retransmission fees.

The fierce lobbying is expected to only escalate, as some House lawmakers hold hearings with an eye to overhauling communications laws.

The new organization also includes community advocates and manufacturers.

“TVfreedom.org will tell the truth about the state of the video marketplace and call out the pay-TV industry’s inside-the-beltway gamesmanship designed solely to increase their record profits,” Robert C. Kenny, a spokesman for the group, said in a statement. He said that they will “publicly engage policymakers, lawmakers and advocacy groups to protect viewers from manufactured blackouts by pay-TV providers and extra fees on their monthly bills.”

Kenny said that the TVfreedom.org will get its message out via ts website, social media and statements and blog posts, as well as occasional advertising.

Cable and satellite operators have their own organization, the American TV Alliance, and Kenny said that TVfreedom.org will “directly push back” on the “misinformation they are publicly articulating about the state of the U.S. video marketplace as it relates to retransmission consent for broadcast TV programming.” Broadcasters have disputed the way that cable and satellite firms have characterized programming costs in recent blackouts, arguing that the costs of carrying TV stations are not responsible for rising cable bills. The group singled out Time Warner Cable, Dish Network and DirecTV as operators that have been pushing for changes in the law.

TVfreedom.org is expected to highlight “unnecessary and questionable fees” on cable and satellite bills, like early termination fees and one-time charges for changes in service, as well as pointing out the public service aspects of broadcast TV, like local news and emergency alerts.

The organization also includes the National Assn. of Broadcasters, Citadel Communications, Quincy Inc. and Journal Broadcast Group.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the cable industry’s biggest trade association, the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn., spent $19.9 million on lobbying in 2013, while the National Assn. of Broadcasters spent $14.5 million.