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 »
JUST IN CASE…
White House Adds Five New SCOTUS Candidates
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

President Trump added five new names to his Supreme Court short list on Friday, should a need arise to appoint a new justice. The list now numbers 25 individuals. They are: 7th Circuit Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Georgia Supreme Court Justice Britt C. Grant, District of Columbia Circuit Appeals Court Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, 11th Circuit Appeals Judge Kevin C. Newsom, and Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Patrick Wyrick.

SAVE THOSE PERTAINING TO EXEC BRANCH
Sessions: DOJ Will No Longer Issue Guidance Documents
3 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Friday the Justice Department will revamp its policy for issuing guidance documents. Speaking at the Federalist Society’s annual conference in Washington Friday, Sessions said the Justice Department will no longer issue guidance that 'purports to impose new obligations on any party outside the executive branch.' He said DOJ will review and repeal any documents that could violate this policy." Sessions said: “Too often, rather than going through the long, slow, regulatory process provided in statute, agencies make new rules through guidance documents—by simply sending a letter. This cuts off the public from the regulatory process by skipping the required public hearings and comment periods—and it is simply not what these documents are for. Guidance documents should be used to explain existing law—not to change it.”

Source:
STARTS LEGAL FUND FOR WH STAFF
Trump to Begin Covering His Own Legal Bills
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS
DISCUSSED THE MATTER FOR A NEW BOOK
Steele Says Follow the Money
6 hours ago
STAFF PICKS

"Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who wrote the explosive dossier alleging ties between Donald Trump and Russia," says in a new book by The Guardian's Luke Harding that "Trump's land and hotel deals with Russians needed to be examined. ... Steele did not go into further detail, Harding said, but seemed to be referring to a 2008 home sale to the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. Richard Dearlove, who headed the UK foreign-intelligence unit MI6 between 1999 and 2004, said in April that Trump borrowed money from Russia for his business during the 2008 financial crisis."

Source:
BRITISH PUBLICIST CONNECTED TO TRUMP TOWER MEETING
Goldstone Ready to Meet with Mueller’s Team
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The British publicist who helped set up the fateful meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a group of Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016 is ready to meet with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's office, according to several people familiar with the matter. Rob Goldstone has been living in Bangkok, Thailand, but has been communicating with Mueller's office through his lawyer, said a source close to Goldstone."

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