- Protect TV Viewers and Allow Broadcasters to Continue Negotiating in the Free Market
Protect TV Viewers and Allow Broadcasters to Continue Negotiating in the Free Market
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Cable and satellite companies negotiate with local broadcasters for the right to retransmit their signals in a process known as retransmission consent. Terms can include cash payments, barter and advertising. This compensation is critical to local TV stations’ ability to provide local news, community and emergency information, as well as top-quality entertainment. Recently, certain cable and satellite companies have waged an aggressive lobbying effort urging the government to weigh in on these private, market-based negotiations in an attempt to avoid fairly compensating broadcasters, who produce the highest-rated content on television.
Congress recognized that local TV stations should be allowed to negotiate for retransmission consent in the 1992 Cable Act, legislation that intended to promote competition in the video marketplace. Prior to this law, cable operators used broadcast signals without stations’ consent and resold the signals to subscribers, making millions.
The current free-market process provides incentives for both parties to come to mutually beneficial arrangements, which is why negotiations are completed with no service interruptions or fanfare the great majority of the time. In the handful of instances where agreements are not easily reached, there is a distinctive pattern. In the last two years, more than 83 percent of the time there was an impasse, it involved AT&T/DIRECTV or DISH1 – the same big companies begging for government intervention.
These big pay-TV companies are urging policymakers to change the retransmission consent system simply because they don’t want to fairly compensate broadcasters for use of their signals. They claim that broadcast retransmission fees are responsible for higher cable bills. The truth is, cable bills have risen faster than – sometimes double – the rate of inflation since the mid-1990s, long before broadcasters received cash compensation for their signals.
Despite having the highest-rated programming on television, broadcasters have routinely been the least compensated by cable and satellite companies. Wells Fargo analyst Marci Ryvicker estimated that if broadcasters received retransmission consent payments at a rate comparable to what is paid to cable networks, broadcasters would receive five times their current compensation.
While complaining about programming costs, cable and satellite companies are pocketing big profits. In 2014, AT&T/DIRECTV had revenues of $33.3 billion and DISH had revenues of $14.6 billion.
The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR), passed at the end of 2014, directed the FCC to initiate a proceeding to reexamine aspects of its requirement to negotiate retransmission consent in good faith. Specifically, STELAR required the FCC to review its “totality of circumstances” test for determining whether broadcasters and pay-TV operators negotiate in good faith. The FCC initiated this proceeding in September 2015. Pay-TV operators are using this as an opportunity to raise broader retransmission consent issues and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has indicated that he plans to fold the current review of program exclusivity rules – which allow stations to provide the local news, emergency information and programming viewers watch most – into this proceeding.
Broadcasters strongly oppose government intervention that would upend the retransmission consent system solely for the benefit of the big cable and satellite companies. The retransmission consent negotiation process is fair and market-driven. Eliminating broadcasters’ ability to negotiate for the value of broadcast signals would mean less choice for viewers and fewer resources for stations to dedicate to local news, public affairs programming, coverage of emergency weather events and community activities.
Congress and the FCC should allow broadcasters and cable and satellite operators to continue to conduct private, market-driven negotiations for retransmission consent and avoid tilting the scales in favor of either party. Government intervention would only disrupt a marketplace that has resulted in more programming choices and services for local television viewers.
1 Source: SNL Kagan, “Retransmission Databases: 2015 and 2015”