Pay TV groups challenge broadcasters’ right to pull signals during carriage disputes

Looking to avoid fiascos like what happened in New York during this year’s Academy Awards telecast (which was held from Cablevision subscribers by ABC), a group of pay TV providers — called the American Television Alliance — has joined forces to prohibit broadcasters from pulling their broadcast signals during retransmission disputes.

The alliance is made up of AT&T, The American Cable Association, Cablevision, DIRECTV, Dish Network, The New America Foundation, Public Knowledge, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and 22 other groups.

“The mission of the new coalition is to ensure consumers are not harmed — or their favorite shows held hostage — in negotiations for carriage of broadcast programming,” the ATVA said. “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The alliance said retransmission consent rules are currently outdated and usually result on contentious negotiations. The negotiations often go to the last minute, and broadcast signals are sometimes pulled from the pay services.

The NAB, chief lobbyist for broadcasters, responded by citing that cable rates have increased sometimes four times the rate of inflation.

“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,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. “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.”