Putting Rudolph Back on the Air

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. (left)
National Journal
Alex Brown
Dec. 12, 2013, 12:51 p.m.

If TV black­outs are cost­ing you your chance to watch Mir­acle on 34th Street, Rep. Anna Eshoo thinks you’ll like her latest bill. Not to be out­done, Rep. Steve Scal­ise, R-La., is of­fer­ing his own plan to end black­outs.

The Video CHOICE Act, in­tro­duced Thursday by Cali­for­nia Demo­crats Eshoo and Rep. Zoe Lof­gren, aims to re­form re­trans­mis­sion con­sent policy — which has been a sub­ject of heated dis­cus­sion between broad­casters and pay TV pro­viders. Scal­ise’s bill, also mak­ing its de­but Thursday, would elim­in­ate re­trans­mis­sion con­sent al­to­geth­er.

Cur­rently, cable and satel­lite com­pan­ies are re­quired to ne­go­ti­ate peri­od­ic­ally with broad­cast af­fil­i­ates to de­term­ine how much they will pay to carry their pro­gram­ming. When the sides can’t agree on pri­cing, the pro­vider loses the sta­tion and its sub­scribers get left in the dark.

Broad­casters say most black­outs are caused by pay TV pro­viders un­will­ing to pay a fair price. Cable and satel­lite com­pan­ies say the broad­casters are jack­ing up fees and re­form is needed.

For ex­ample, many DISH Net­work sub­scribers in Montana won’t be able to watch NBC’s Christ­mas Eve broad­cast of It’s A Won­der­ful Life un­less Bon­ten Me­dia Group re­solves its dis­pute with the pro­vider.

Eshoo says her bill would change that. It would give the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion the abil­ity to keep sta­tions on the air even if ne­go­ti­ations are stalled. The bill would also al­low pro­viders to of­fer cable chan­nels without for­cing cus­tom­ers to sub­scribe to broad­cast pack­ages as well.

“My bill would put an end to broad­cast tele­vi­sion black­outs and en­sure con­sumers aren’t held host­age by a dis­pute they have no con­trol over,” Eshoo said in a re­lease. She also said she would work with Scal­ise on ad­dress­ing broad­cast policies.

The Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Broad­casters quickly voiced its op­pos­i­tion. “Clearly, these two pieces of le­gis­la­tion are ut­terly in­con­sist­ent with each oth­er, and we find it sad that pay TV com­pan­ies who built their broad­band, voice and video busi­nesses on the backs of loc­al TV sig­nals now balk at the no­tion of pay­ing a fair mar­ket rate for the most-watched pro­gram­ming on tele­vi­sion,” the group said in a re­lease.

On the oth­er side of the is­sue, a co­ali­tion of pay TV pro­viders hailed both mem­bers’ ef­forts. “[Both bills] would re­form the cur­rent video mar­ket and pro­tect con­sumers,” said a state­ment from the Amer­ic­an Tele­vi­sion Al­li­ance. “While the bills re­flect dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to re­form, they show the ever-grow­ing bi­par­tis­an sup­port for im­me­di­ate ac­tion to fix re­trans­mis­sion con­sent.”

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