RFD-TV’s Dramatic Fight for Rural Rights in Cable Rotation

For more than 15 years RFD-TV has been sending its rural-interest programming, powered by farming and livestock shows, rodeo and roots American music, to millions around the country. Most of its viewers live in small-town and rural areas, but it’s also available to America’s largest cities. And yet every so often a big city-headquartered cable carrier will announce that it is dropping the Nashville-based network from its programming.

That’s when RFD-TV president Patrick Gottsch has to battle to keep his list of carriers intact for his viewers. He turns to those viewers for help and they never fail to respond. The latest battle involves the January announcement by Verizon FiOS that it was dropping the RFD-TV network from its network lineup.

“There’s a disconnect, and it’s a growing disconnect, between city and country,” Gottsch says, “where the urban media executives and advertising executives just don’t have the connection with rural America like they used to have.”

Two years ago, he says, he went through a similar situation in Washington, D.C., with the Comcast/Time-Warner merger. “We were called before the Department of Justice. We met with numerous congressmen and senators, especially those with rural ties, and everyone was educated, we thought, about the importance of carrying rural content, and the importance of connecting city with country again. Apparently Verizon FiOS wasn’t paying attention.”

Instead, Gottsch felt blindsided when Verizon dropped the channel. “We had no hint that this was coming,” he says. “I did see last year where they dropped the Outdoor Channel, the Weather Channel and the Sportsman Channel, and I was concerned that they appeared to be dropping rural content. I flew to New York on July 14 last year and met with them, and flat out asked them face to face, ‘Are (you) getting rid of rural content?’ They assured me that they were not. Nothing else was said until Christmas Eve, when we started getting letters and emails from Verizon customers saying that Verizon announced that they were dropping RFD-TV. That was the first we heard of it.”

RFD-TV by the Numbers
$12.5m Average viewership per week
132k Average nightly viewership in primetime
47.3m Pay TV households

According to Billy Frey, chief marketing officer for RFD-TV, the network is available to almost half the cable and satellite viewers in the U.S., and typically is watched by about 12.5 million people per week, an increase of 8% over 2014. “This type of entertainment is their life,” says Frey, referring to the millions of loyal viewers. “That’s why we fight, so it will always be there for them.”

According to Nielsen, RFD-TV averaged 132,000 viewers in primetime for February, ranking 81st among just over 100 cable networks tracked.

On Jan. 28, Gottsch fought back on RFD-TV’s evening show, “Rural America Live.” The format felt a bit like a telethon, with Gottsch fielding calls from viewers all over the country. Cameras focused on a huge pile of binders containing thousands of letters from angry viewers. Many of the letter writers and callers vowed to cancel Verizon FiOS if the company followed through and dropped RFD-TV, even if it meant losing their only source of cable because, they said, RFD-TV was the only source of news and entertainment that responded to their lifestyle.

The following day large ads appeared on the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post, reading: “Drop Us? Drop You, Verizon.” The ad posed the question, “Does Verizon have a bias against rural independent content?” and suggested that Verizon chairman & CEO Lowell McAdam should resign.

All RFD-TV efforts to continue their Verizon FiOS relationship were for naught. At the end of January, Verizon FiOS dropped the net from its lineup. However, there may be promising news to come following the Federal Communications Commission’s vote to adopt a Notice of Inquiry to study how independent programmers fare in today’s contracting world of cable companies. The FCC press release stated: “This action will help the Commission assess the current state of video programming diversity and determine whether further action is needed to promote independent programming sources.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Lady Gaga

    Variety Earns 15 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Award Nominations

    Variety has received 15 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie award nominations for its coverage of the entertainment industry over the past year. The awards gala, which will take place at The Hilton Midtown in New York City on Oct. 30, celebrates publications that have demonstrated impressive investigative journalism, in addition to thoughtful digital and print design. [...]

  • Disneyland

    Disney Shares Slip Amid Reported Whistleblower Allegations of Inflated Revenue

    Sandra Kuba, a former senior financial analyst for Disney’s revenue operations unit, says she has filed a series of whistleblower tips with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging that the entertainment conglomerate repeatedly and systematically overstated its revenue for years, according to a MarketWatch report, by as much as $6 billion in a single [...]

  • Bob Bakish Joe Ianniello

    ViacomCBS Sets Board Members; Bob Bakish, Joe Ianniello New Deals Disclosed

    ViacomCBS has unveiled the 13 members of its board of directors and details of new employment contracts for president-CEO Bob Bakish and CBS chairman-CEO Joe Ianniello. The disclosure came Monday in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, six days after Viacom and CBS at long last set an all-stock merger agreement valued at [...]

  • Carrie Underwood, left, and Reba McEntire

    CMAs Make Hosting Change: Brad Paisley Exits, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire Are In

    The CMA Awards have had the most consistent hosting situation of any music awards show in television, but 11 years after installing Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood as the reliable faces of the telecast, even ABC and the Country Music Association have decided it’s time for a switch. Come Nov. 13, Underwood will return for [...]

  • Ava Max iHeartRadio Wango Tango, Portraits,

    Megan Thee Stallion, CNCO, Ava Max to Perform at VMAs Pre-show

    CNCO, Megan Thee Stallion and “Sweet but Psycho” singer Ava Max (pictured) have been added to the performer lineup at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. The three will take the stage during the VMAs’ red carpet pre-show, hosted by Terrence J and Nessa. Zara Larsson will join the two hosts as a special correspondent. [...]

  • Stacy Rukeyser

    Netflix Orders Dramedy Series 'Sex/Life' From 'UnREAL' Showrunner

    Stacy Rukeyser has landed a series order at Netflix with the dramedy “Sex/Life.” The series is based on the book “44 Chapters About 4 Men” by BB Easton. The series is described as the story of a love triangle between a woman, her husband, and her past which takes a new look at female identity [...]

  • Paramount Television Adds Three to Executive

    Paramount Television Adds Three to Executive Team

    Paramount Television is continuing to add to its executive ranks. The studio has tapped Brian Segna as its new senior vice president of development, along with Kate Gill and Nicole Harjo, both of whom are joining as vice presidents of development. The trio will all report to Jenna Santoianni, executive vice president and head of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content