TVfreedom.org launches for broadcast TV, consumers

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TV FreedomTVfreedom.org is a new coalition of local broadcasters, community advocates, network television affiliate associations, multicast networks, manufacturers and other independent broadcaster-related organizations which aim to help protect consumer interests, ensure emergency and weather related programming access, promote the value of broadcast-TV programming, and preserve a fair and free video marketplace.


“TVfreedom.org will tell the truth about the state of the video marketplace and call out the Pay-TV industry’s inside-the-beltway gamesmanship designed solely to increase their record profits,” said Robert Kenny, director of public affairs for TVfreedom.org. “On behalf of consumers, we will publicly engage policymakers, lawmakers and advocacy groups to protect TV viewers from manufactured blackouts by Pay-TV providers and extra fees on their monthly bills.”

TVfreedom.org says it supports market-driven solutions and policies that create more choices and increased accessibility for consumers’ favorite TV programming. It also is calling for modernizing the nation’s communications laws to reflect the convergence of video services in the marketplace, while enabling innovation to continue to flourish.

As part of its agenda, TVfreedom.org supports policies that provide consumers with refunds on their monthly pay-TV bills for programming blackouts; eliminate or reduce unnecessary and questionable fees that Pay-TV providers tack onto monthly consumer bills (i.e. early termination fees and one-time charges for changes in service); and protect content providers from the use of their lawful content by others without fair compensation.

TVfreedom.org coalition members:

1.         ABC Television Affiliate Association

2.         Antennas Direct

3.         Blackhawk Broadcasting

4.         Bounce TV

5.         Bristlecone Broadcasting

6.         California Oregon Broadcasting Incorporated (COBi)

7.         Capitol Broadcasting Company

8.         CBS Television Affiliate Association

9.         Citadel Communications, LLC

10.       Dispatch Broadcast Group

11.       FOX Television Affiliate Association

12.       Journal Broadcast Group, Inc.

13.       Mobile 500 Alliance

14.       Morgan Murphy Media

15.       National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations (NASBA)

16.       National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB)

17.       National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)

18.       National Black Religious Broadcasters (NBRB)

19.       NBC Television Affiliate Association

20.       Northwest Broadcasting, Inc.

21.       Quincy, Inc.

22.       Rural Agricultural Council of America (RACA)

23.       Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB)

TVfreedom.org believes that the retransmission consent process enables local TV broadcast stations to continue providing their communities with vital information, including local news, as well as emergency alerts, severe weather updates, public health advisories and details on time-sensitive public safety-related incidents.

The Coalition also supports greater transparency on customers’ monthly Pay-TV bills, calling for disclosure of programming costs for ALL content, not simply the selective disclosure of only local and network broadcast-TV programming.

“It is disingenuous on the part of some cable and satellite TV providers to single out the costs associated with retransmission consent fees paid to broadcasters when less popular cable programming represents a much higher percentage of the total bill charged to consumers each month,” Kenny said.

Recently, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and DISH, among other Pay-TV providers, initiated a PR campaign aimed at getting government assistance to bypass the existing retransmission consent system.

TVfreedom.org believes that consumers would ultimately benefit from a system where cable and satellite TV providers fairly compensate all channels based on the ratings, popularity and quality of the programming that each channel provides to viewers.

During the 2012-13 television season, 96 of the top 100 broadcast-TV programs dominated the primetime program rankings. For years, cable and satellite TV customers have been overpaying for lower-rated cable channels that they don’t want or watch. These cable channels are, in many cases, paid much more than broadcast channels, despite winning just a fraction of the viewership ratings.

According to publicly available data, the very same pay-TV companies which are responsible for initiating nearly 90% of the retransmission disputes in America (DirecTV, Time Warner Cable and Dish Network) collectively amassed nearly $68 billion in total revenues from 10/12-9/13.

Said Kenny: “Certain Pay-TV providers are publicly presenting a false picture of the marketplace and calling for government intervention despite the fact that 99% of all retransmission disputes are resolved nationwide without blackouts or service disruption to consumers. We urge pay-TV providers to negotiate in good faith with broadcasters on retransmission consent in all cases.”

TVfreedom.org provided these facts on the state of the video marketplace:

•           From October 2012 – September 2013, DirecTV had revenues of $31.2 billion, Time Warner Cable had revenues of $22 billion and the Dish Network had revenues of $14.4 billion – resulting in a collective revenue total of nearly $68 billion annually for the three companies.

•           Since March 2009, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and Dish Network stock values increased 378%, 398% and 197%, respectively.

•           Unlike any other U.S. consumer communication service, over the past 13 years, cable prices in particular have consistently risen annually at more than double the rate of inflation.

•           Pay-TV companies consistently threaten blackouts or service interruptions when retransmission negotiations don’t go their way.

•           Since 2012, nearly 90% of programming disputes involve only Time Warner Cable, DirecTV or Dish Network. Dish alone is responsible for over 50% of these viewer service disruptions.

•           Today, 99% of carriage-related disputes are resolved through good faith negotiations, without service disruption to consumers.

•           Retransmission consent fees are not the cause of rising pay-TV bills, barely amounting to 10% of the basic Pay-TV bill ($4 to $5 per month) for consumers.

•           Broadcast program ratings far outpace programming offered by cable channels. In fact, during the 2012-13 television season, broadcast programming dominated the primetime program rankings, accounting for 96 of the top 100 programs.

In response to the announcement, the American Television Alliance (ATVA) released the following statement: “We suppose it is good news that several years after TV viewers, consumer groups and others got together to call for retransmission consent reform, it finally occurred to broadcasters to express concern about consumers.  But it is too little, too late.  Everyone already knows that their blackouts and old rules from the 90s have got to go.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Blackouts are always a last resort. Bottom line, if MVPDs don’t want to pay what broadcasters are asking in retransmission fees, then they should let the signal go dark. Consumers can always hook up antennas and simply switch from HDMI1 to the antenna. With The Video CHOICE and Next Generation Television Marketplace Acts in Congress, the government is looking to bring an end to these disputes. Forcing broadcasters to allow MVPDs to keep airing their signals during negotiations or disputes would really tie their hands—this is not a marketplace-based solution. This really makes us wonder if forced a la carte might be next on the table. It would allow the MVPDs to just pass the added retransmission costs directly to the consumer in a transparent manner. “Here’s what ABC, the Discovery Channel and MTV cost to view this year—take it or leave it.” The consumer may end up the ultimate decision-maker. Is that really what the MVPDs want?


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Carl has been with RBR-TVBR since 1997 and is currently Managing Director/Senior Editor. Residing in Northern Virginia, he covers the business of broadcasting, advertising, programming, new media and engineering. He’s also done a great deal of interviews for the company and handles our ever-growing stable of bylined columnists.