WASHINGTON, DC -- NAB Television Board Chairman James Yager, CEO of Barrington Broadcasting Group, testified today in a hearing before the House Commerce Committee. The oversight hearing was entitled "Reauthorization of the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act."
Following is a transcript of Yager's oral testimony as prepared:
Chairman Boucher, Ranking Member Stearns, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you very much for having me here today. My name is Jim Yager and I am the CEO of Barrington Broadcasting, which owns and operates 21 television stations in 15 small to mid-sized television markets. I am also the Chairman of the Television Board Chair of NAB.
Ever since Congress crafted the original Satellite Home Viewer Act of 1988 it has worked to further two objectives. First, that free over-the-air television will be widely available to American households. Second, that satellite retransmissions will not jeopardize the strong public interest in maintaining vibrant local television service. Those two goals remain paramount today.
Our Barrington stations keep our communities informed and connected. We work every day to embody the spirit of localism, which Congress has affirmed time and time again as a vital public policy goal. We do not charge our viewers to watch our programming, we rely on payments from advertisers to deliver a free service to your constituents. Without free, over-the-air television cable and satellite companies would essentially be unrestrained in their ability to charge subscribers even higher prices.
Broadcast television stations remain the primary source of the most diverse and popular entertainment, news, weather, and sports programming in the country. In fact, according to data from Nielsen Media research, in the 2007-2008 television season, 488 of the top 500 primetime television programs were broadcast over-the-air. While these stations represent a relatively small number of channels of those on cable and satellite systems, broadcast stations offer a unique and valuable service to their local markets that could be undermined by unnecessary changes to the law.
As Congress considers updates to SHVERA, it is vital that you uphold and strengthen the tradition of localism. Any changes should not impair the enforcement of program market agreements that are essential to local broadcast service.
Furthermore, this Committee should strengthen localism by phasing out satellite licenses for distant signals. The license should be replaced with a requirement for local-into-local carriage in all television markets, which would enhance localism, programming and price competition and increase viewer choice.
To assist viewers in this difficult economic climate, Congress should mandate "local-into-local" satellite service in every market. I would like to thank Congressman Stupak for the introduction of legislation to accomplish this goal. There are 31 of the 210 television markets in small and rural areas - like Marquette, Michigan - that the satellite companies do not serve. They have said that this is a capacity issue, yet I believe it is simply a business decision. I am certain that if Congress does not step in, the satellite companies will never provide local service to every market in the country.
Broadcasters have invested well over a billion dollars in making the transition to digital television. So far there is very little economic return on that investment. Nevertheless, those investments are still in the public interest. The satellite industry's investment in providing local-into-local service to all Americans would also be in the public interest.
Localism is at the forefront of broadcaster operations. In emergency situations, it is the broadcaster, not the cable or satellite companies, who is on the scene providing the public with the emergency, lifesaving, and timely information it needs. Localism is not in their DNA or their business models.
Some members of Congress have expressed frustration that their constituents do not have access to in state, but out of market broadcast stations. Current law allows cable and satellite systems to offer this programming to subscribers in certain parts of a state. But many cable and satellite systems choose not to do so. However, Congress should not change current law to allow cable and satellite companies to offer network and syndicated programming that is identical to programming already offered by the local broadcaster with rights to that market. Doing so would be inconsistent with the long-standing principle of localism and the carefully balanced system of retransmission consent that was established by Congress to further this principle. If the retransmission consent rights of an in-market station were undercut by the importation of distant, in-state duplicative signals, the economic base for the local broadcaster's service to the public would be eroded and the public would be harmed.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify. I welcome any questions you may have.
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