NAB’s Smith Blasts DirecTV's ‘Scare Tactics’ on STELAR Renewal

Smith calls recent ads “disingenuous at best, and deceptive at worst.”
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WASHINGTON—As Congress still debates what to do with the expiring STELAR bill, NAB President Gordon Smith sent a letter earlier this week to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson in which he criticizes a DirecTV campaign about STELAR’s renewal.

NAB President Gordon Smith

NAB President Gordon Smith

The campaign, according to the letter, warns viewers that they could be at risk of losing TV channels in the event that the STELAR legislation is not renewed by Congress.

“These ‘auto-tuned’ scare tactic messages appearing on TV screens of DirecTV customers are disingenuous at best, and deceptive at worst,” Smith wrote.

The STELAR Act was introduced in 1988 and allows satellite operators to deliver distant network affiliate signals to markets where they don’t deliver a local version of those stations. It was most recently renewed in 2014.

Smith points out in his letter that STELAR represented a temporary fix to copyright laws and delivering local coverage to underserved areas when it was passed and was never intended to be permanent.

“Today, because Congress’s wise decision to establish a compulsory copyright license which better enables DirecTV to carry local TV affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, rather than distant signals, the number of locally unserved households for these networks has dropped to less than 500,000 (or less than 0.5% of total U.S. households),” wrote Smith. “With this fraction of households that STELAR actually impacts plummeting—precisely why the U.S. Copyright Office (the expert federal agency on copyright issues) supports expiration of STELAR this year—you are sadly misleading a significant majority of your subscribers, who face no impact whatsoever.”

Smith calls the campaign a series disservice to both DirecTV’s subscribers and Congress, and says that DirecTV can ensure no stations will be lost by fulfilling the company’s “decade-old promise” to carry local stations in all 210 U.S. TV markets.