The Grinches Who Stole Christmas Programming

Broadcasters and cable companies won't touch each other with a 39 and 1/2 foot pole.
National Journal
Alex Brown
Add to Briefcase
Alex Brown
Dec. 12, 2013, 3:13 a.m.

It’s Christ­mas Eve in Montana. You turn on your TV for a time-honored view­ing of It’s A Won­der­ful Life. But you can’t find the Christ­mas clas­sic, or even the NBC af­fil­i­ate that’s sup­posed to be car­ry­ing it it. Or per­haps you’re in North Car­o­lina, hop­ing to watch some NBA bas­ket­ball after the Christ­mas feast. Or north­ern Cali­for­nia, set­tling in to watch your 49ers fin­ish out the reg­u­lar sea­son. And you can’t.

For view­ers in eight me­dia mar­kets, TV black­outs are com­ing at an un­for­tu­nate time. The real Grinch, say cable and satel­lite ad­voc­ates, is broad­cast con­glom­er­ates try­ing to steal con­sumers’ money by hik­ing up prices to carry their sta­tions. Sorry, Scrooge, broad­casters re­spond, but you’re to blame for your un­will­ing­ness to pay a fair amount for our ser­vice.

So, what’s the cause of all of this bick­er­ing? The dis­putes stem from an is­sue most people don’t give much thought — re­trans­mis­sion con­sent agree­ments. Cur­rent law re­quires cable and satel­lite pro­viders to meet every few years with loc­al TV sta­tions to de­term­ine how much they’ll pay to keep the af­fil­i­ate’s pro­gram­ming on their lineup. If they can’t settle on a num­ber, sub­scribers to that re­gion­al pro­vider lose ac­cess to the sta­tion un­til the ne­go­ti­ation is re­solved.

In Montana, for ex­ample, Bon­ten Me­dia Group — which owns NBC Montana — is at odds with DISH Net­work over pay­ment for its pro­gram­ming. DISH claims the group is try­ing to triple its prices; NBC Montana said that num­ber is mis­lead­ing and its de­mands are still be­low the prices some ma­jor cable chan­nels com­mand. In the mean­time, DISH cus­tom­ers in Mis­soula, Butte and Boze­man will be without Sunday Night Foot­ball, Parks and Re­cre­ation and all oth­er NBC pro­gram­ming.

“These black­outs are in­creas­ing rap­idly be­cause these broad­casters real­ize that they can play these TV com­pan­ies off of one an­oth­er,” said Bri­an Fre­d­er­ick, spokes­man for the Amer­ic­an Tele­vi­sion Al­li­ance. ATVA’s part­ners in­clude a num­ber of cable and satel­lite com­pan­ies, such as DISH, Dir­ecTV and Time Warner Cable.

The prob­lem, Fre­d­er­ick said, is when broad­cast com­pan­ies force price hikes by black­ing out sta­tions on one com­pany and telling cus­tom­ers to find a new pro­vider. The com­pany, lack­ing a pop­u­lar chan­nel and los­ing view­ers, is then pres­sured in­to a bad agree­ment to avoid los­ing mar­ket share. Then the same tac­tic is used on the next pro­vider when its re­trans­mis­sion con­sent agree­ment is re-ne­go­ti­ated.

Those claims are part of a man­u­fac­tured crisis, countered the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Broad­casters’ Den­nis Whar­ton. Satel­lite and cable com­pan­ies are un­will­ing to pay a fair price, he said, and are re­sort­ing to dis­rup­tions — NAB doesn’t like the term “black­out” — in hopes of pres­sur­ing Con­gress to in­ter­vene.

“Their mo­tiv­a­tion here is to try to get the TV view­ers who are pawns in their little game here to call Con­gress and say, ‘I want my TV back,’” Whar­ton said.

Will it work? That re­mains to be seen. Sources on both sides said they ex­pect Rep. Steve Scal­ise, R-La., to un­veil le­gis­la­tion soon that would elim­in­ate re­trans­mis­sion con­sent rules. Scal­ise pro­posed sim­il­ar le­gis­la­tion with then-Sen. Jim De­Mint, R-S.C., in 2011. Mean­while, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Cal­if., is push­ing a bill that would al­low the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion to grant in­ter­im car­riage of sta­tions while ne­go­ti­ations are on­go­ing. It would also give con­sumers choices on pur­chas­ing broad­cast sta­tions through cable and satel­lite pro­viders. It’s un­clear if either bill can gain trac­tion in the House.

ATVA has not en­dorsed any spe­cif­ic le­gis­la­tion — “There’s a lot of po­ten­tial solu­tions,” Fre­d­er­ick said — but the group sup­ports ef­forts by mem­bers of Con­gress to re­form the cur­rent law. It’s also call­ing on the FCC to do more to “pro­tect con­sumers.”

Whar­ton said that push for re­form has led to more view­ers get­ting blacked out so that satel­lite and cable com­pan­ies can use them as an ex­ample of why the rules are un­fair. He ad­vised blacked-out view­ers to find a new pro­vider or even use their an­tenna — whatever it takes to watch their Christ­mas spe­cials.

What We're Following See More »
SANS PROOF
NRA Chief: Leftist Protesters Are Paid
1 days ago
UPDATE
NEW TRAVEL BAN COMING SOON
Trump Still on Campaign Rhetoric
2 days ago
UPDATE
“WE’RE CHANGING IT”
Trump Rails On Obamacare
2 days ago
UPDATE

After spending a few minutes re-litigating the Democratic primary, Donald Trump turned his focus to Obamacare. “I inherited a mess, believe me. We also inherited a failed healthcare law that threatens our medical system with absolute and total catastrophe” he said. “I’ve been watching and nobody says it, but Obamacare doesn’t work.” He finished, "so we're going to repeal and replace Obamacare."

FAKE NEWS
Trump Goes After The Media
2 days ago
UPDATE

Donald Trump lobbed his first attack at the “dishonest media” about a minute into his speech, saying that the media would not appropriately cover the standing ovation that he received. “We are fighting the fake news,” he said, before doubling down on his previous claim that the press is “the enemy of the people." However, he made a distinction, saying that he doesn't think all media is the enemy, just the "fake news."

FBI TURNED DOWN REQUEST
Report: Trump Asked FBI to Deny Russia Stories
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump's associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple US officials briefed on the matter tell CNN. But a White House official said late Thursday that the request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe the reporting to be accurate."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login