The efforts of MVPD interests to find a way around the occasional blackout of a sporting event on local media outlets would have a lasting effect on local broadcasters that would eventually lead to the loss of sports programming on free, over-the-air television. So said the National Association of Broadcasters in reply comments filed with the FCC.
NAB said there would be two deleterious results from a striking of the blackout rule: “(1) it would severely undermine local broadcasters’ program exclusivity which, as Congress and the Commission have repeatedly recognized, is essential to support their investment in high quality, diverse informational and entertainment programming; and (2) it could accelerate the migration of popular sports programming from free to pay TV.”
NAB argued that elimination of the rule would not end blackouts, it would simply allow MVPDs to perform an end-around by importing a distant signal carrying the game in question, to the detriment of local television broadcasters.
Further, although NAB expressed sympathy for fans occasionally deprived of access to a game over the air, it noted that it is an infrequent occurrence – whereas in the case of the NFL, it used to occur over 50% of the time in the 1970s, and is now a 6% occurrence.
Another argument is that the blackout should be eliminated in view of the difficult economic situation the nation is in. If that is indeed the case, NAB questioned the logic of a plan that would result in the loss of freely-broadcast games in favor of broadcasts that would require viewers to subscribe to an MVPD.
Ultimately, NAB argues that the goal of petitioners who want the rule stricken is not to please fans of sports programming, it is to enrich their own bank accounts at the expense of broadcasters and eventually, those same fans who would eventually be forced to become MVPD subscribers.