Alliance Cries Foul Over TV Retrans Blackouts

WASHINGTON—Last year TV broadcasters set a record for the number of blackouts recorded in a single year, taking down cable and satellite TV signals 213 times, according to the American TV Alliance. By way of comparison, there were eight TV blackouts nationwide in 2010, the alliance said.

“Broadcaster blackouts roared back in 2017 after the FCC suspended its investigation of abusive broadcast industry tactics,” said ATVA spokesman Trent Duffy in a press release issued today. “Broadcasters have weaponized TV blackouts, deliberately targeting live sports and other must-see TV to inflict maximum pain on innocent consumers.”

Broadcasters often black out channels when retransmission negotiations reach an impasse. The alliance predicts this tactic will continue until Congress and the FCC get involved “to protect consumers,” said Duffy. ATVA has asked the FCC to ban broadcasters from blacking out marquee programming as leverage during retransmission negotiations

The American TV Alliance, which calls itself “a voice for the TV viewer,” counts among its partners the American Cable Association, the NTCA – Rural Broadband Association, DISH Network, Charter Communications and Verizon, according to the group’s website.

Tens of millions of pay-TV viewers were denied access to local news, weather and live sporting events in 2017, the alliance said.

“Broadcasters pocketed $9.3 billion in 2017 from pay TV customers for ‘free’ TV,” the alliance said in its press release, quoting figures from SNL Kagan. Some of the events broadcasters blacked out last year included the Super Bowl, awards shows, college football bowl games, the NFL Playoffs, March Madness and other programming, it said.

The alliance singled out CBS, which it said denied millions of DISH Network customer in 18 markets across 26 states access to the 2017 Thanksgiving Day Parade, holiday specials and NFL football. Further, CBS earned an additional $1 billion from retrans last year and is on track to collet $2.5 billion more by 2020, it said. Overall, TV broadcasters are projected to earn an additional $12.8 billion by 2023.

According to the ATVA, by year the number of blackouts totals: 213 in 2017; 104 in 2016; 193 in 2015; 94 in 2014; 119 in 2013; 90 in 2012; 42 in 2011 and eight in 2010.

In a response to ATVA’s press release, NAB’s Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton released the following statement:

“ATVA should look in the mirror to determine who's really responsible for retrans disruptions: ATVA's own members—the largest pay-TV companies in the business—cynically force impasses in hopes that Washington will inject itself into free market negotiations. Despite pay TV posturing, 99 percent of all retrans deals are completed successfully, and we look forward to continue partnerships with pay TV operators for our valued, most-watched broadcast programming.”

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.