Undoing Retransmission Extortion

By Paul Maxwell Report Archives
Cover image for  article: Undoing Retransmission Extortion

Sure won’t be easy … but a lot is happening to put the attempt to end retrans blackmail front and center.  Just check out this historical list from the (admittedly biased, but accurate) American Television Alliance:  Annual totals for retransmission-related blackouts since 2010.  This year is already setting significant records. Together, they total 1,149.

The yearly totals (as of July 28) are ...


          Year Blackouts

          2010          8

          2011         42

          2012         90

          2013       119

          2014         94

          2015       193

          2016       104

          2017       213

          2018       165

          2019*      213


... with more likely anytime soon.  Of course, the blackouts don't last forever.  (One big confrontation ended this week as Altice and CBS made up and renewed.)  But, in the end, the MVPD operator always comes out on the losing side.  (Hard to win if you gotta pay for a gotta-have product even though it is meant to be “free.”)


At any rate, we still have current blackouts galore … most notably one between CBS and AT&T (including all AT&T distribution modes like satellite and OTT).  Dish, also, is tussling with a number of programmers.


Getting back to conversations on retrans, the broadcasters are gearing up for a battle.  Back on July 23, NAB head Gordon Smith suggested “that AT&T and Dish are causing retransmission consent blackouts to win congressional support for the renewal of the satellite TV law that broadcasters fear may weaken their hand in retrans negotiations.”


And hallelujah to that!


In case you need a refresher: “Retransmission consent” was created in the Cable Act of 1992 in order to provide over-the-air broadcasters with a new revenue stream: money paid by cable operators (read subscribers) for the privilege of carrying those “free” over-the-air channels.  At the same time, the former “must carry” aspect of broadcast signals hung around for those broadcasters without the clout to get paid.


Meanwhile, a five-year-at-a-time law called STELAR was passed that allows MVPDs to import broadcast signals for markets without local signals.  But that runs out this year and as you might imagine there's  been a run on high-priced lobbyists to boost one side or the other in what is already shaping up as a Beltway brawl.


It just so happens a couple of Congressfolk, Representatives Anna Eschoo (D-CA) and Steve Scalise (R-LA), both of whom have been following the issues, introduced a bill this week to address more than a bit of the complex issues.  The Modern Television Act would trash the ’92 Cable Act and replace STELAR with one bill.


The new bill would drop the most arcane parts of both earlier bills and replace them with a greater emphasis on “good faith” negotiations while shifting the emphasis from “retransmission consent” to classic copyright negotiations.


The Modern Television Act is just the first round of what’s to come.  So, stay tuned ... and don’t overlook network neutrality.  Bet it gets packaged in with the upcoming legislative circus.


Oh, and look for more blackouts to come.


Random Notes


Because the President at his so-called Summit managed to redefine free speech his way and, especially after Peter Thiel called out Google for undocumented “treasonous” activities, promised his Administration would “take a close look,” any serious so-called look at big tech will be tainted.  This is the first Presidential threat since the Nixon Administration to target media in a serious way.


Meanwhile, don’t you wish you could absorb a pair of fines totaling $5,100,000,000 as easily as Facebook?


Coming soon to a broadband service might be NewsGuard, the fact-checker service from Steve Brill and former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz … for a fee, of course.


Will that join Flex ($5/month access on Comcast X1 systems that packages access to a variety of streamers and incorporates voice commands)?


Meanwhile, is it true the new cell phone antennae on the forthcoming Dish wireless service will be tiny dishes?


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