WASHINGTON: The fight over retransmission consent escalated today when a group of pay TV providers joined forces to prohibit broadcasters from pulling signals. The broadcast lobby quickly shot back with 10-year record of cable-rate increases.
AT&T, The American Cable Association, Cablevision, DirecTV, Dish Network, The New America Foundation, Public Knowledge, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and 22 other groups formed the American Television Alliance.
“The mission of the new coalition, which officially launched today, is to ensure consumers are not harmed--or their favorite shows held hostage--in negotiations for carriage of broadcast programming,” the ATVA said in announcing its existence. “Under the current law, broadcasters may cut off their television signals and shows from video service providers and consumers if they do not receive the compensation they demand.”
The ATVA said retransmission consent rules--allowing broadcasters to charge for the carriage of their signals on cable and satellite systems--are outdated. Broadcasters once provided signals to for free, but when pay TV operators began charging extra for high-definition tiers, broadcasters went after payments. The negotiations over those payments has always been contentious. Parties typically go into overtime, and broadcast signals sometimes get yanked from pay platforms.
“Public Knowledge has consistently said that consumers should not be harmed by disputes between broadcasters and video providers,” said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge. “Among other ideas we have suggested, we believe lawmakers and/or the FCC should consider requiring interim carriage of over-the-air stations should a retransmission consent agreement expire while the parties are still negotiating.”
Soon after the ATVA announced its formation, the National Association of Broadcasters responded by providing SNL Kagan data on cable rates. From 1999-2009, annual cable rate increases exceeded inflation, sometimes by two, three, and nearly four times.
“The notion that Time Warner and its big pay TV allies are part of a group designed ‘to protect consumers’ is about as credible as BP executives joining Greenpeace,” the NAB’s Dennis Wharton said. “Pay TV built its business on the backs of broadcast programming, and it is not unreasonable for local TV stations to expect fair compensation for the most-watched shows on television. The ultimate irony is that big pay TV was against government intervention before it was for it, as evidenced by their continued opposition to net neutrality rules.”
The ATVA, in turn, took its case to lawmakers via the people at www.americantelevisionalliance.org, a Web site listing its members and its mission: “to give consumers a voice and ask lawmakers to protect consumers by reforming outdated rules that do not reflect today’s marketplace.”
-- Deborah D. McAdams
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