The Broadcaster's Bargain
Since the earliest days of television, broadcast stations – NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox have been granted free use of the public airwaves by law. That’s a public subsidy worth billions of dollars. In exchange, the only obligation broadcasters must meet is to serve the public interest. More than 60 years later, the public subsidy continues, but the public interest side of the bargain is too often ignored.
Because of an old TV law called “retransmission consent,” cable and satellite companies are required to carry local broadcast stations, and broadcasters insist customers pay for them. Because of these outdated regulations that give TV stations a local monopoly, broadcasters often threaten to black out their signals on cable and satellite, even though their programming remains available for free over-the-air with an antenna, and online.
The American Television Alliance reports that TV blackouts hit a record in 2015, affecting 12 million Americans who were watching dark screens instead of their favorite channels. With 75 blackouts already in January, 2017 is on pace to be the worst year for blackouts ever.
- 104 blackouts in 2016
- 193 blackouts in 2015
- 94 blackouts in 2014
- 119 blackouts in 2013
- 90 blackouts in 2012
- 42 blackouts in 2011
- 8 blackouts in 2010
When the blackouts finally end, consumers get their programming back, but at a higher cost:
- SNL Kagan projects that, over time, 50% of broadcast TV affiliates’ retransmission consent payments will go to the networks rather than pay for local programming.
- SNL Kagan’s data shows that retransmission consent fees are the fastest rising part of programming costs.
- Retransmission consent fees have grown an astonishing 27,400% since 2005 and more troubling, have seen 40% annual increases over the last three years.
The U.S. Congress has considered “Local Choice” legislation to address this situation. With Local Choice, customers could choose whether or not to pay for each broadcast station. If they don’t watch a particular station or prefer to use a separate antenna to receive it, they would not be required to pay for retransmission. Your support can make Local Choice, or other needed retransmission consent reforms, a reality.