In a press release, the American Television Alliance, whose members include satellite operators and the American Cable Association, said that broadcasters had “shattered” the record for retrans related blackouts, with more than twice as many (213) as in 2016. “Broadcasters pulled the plug on American consumers a record 213 times last year, blacking out millions of pay TV subscribers across the country,” said ATVA spokesman Trent Duffy. “Broadcaster blackouts roared back in 2017 after the FCC suspended its investigation of abusive broadcast industry tactics. Broadcasters have weaponized TV blackouts, deliberately targeting live sports and other must-see TV to inflict maximum pain on innocent consumers.”
Comcast CFO Mike Cavanagh sees continued growth for retransmission consent revenue at NBCUniversal and thinks the company will follow the same growth trajectory laid out by CBS.
Speaking at UBS investors’ conference, Cavanagh said NBC pulled in $850 million in retrans revenues in 2016 and will take in $1.4 billion this year.
“And there is no reason why we wouldn’t track the trajectory of what CBS has talked about of continued steady growth there. So I think total TV, affiliate fees, stable growth, stable advertising and retrans growth against all the investments and the focus on the quality of the product, I think leaves us feeling good about our TV business,” said Cavanagh according to a Seeking Alpha transcript.
Dish has struck a retrans deal with Lilly Broadcasting, resolving an impasse dating from September.
The multiyear deal covers TV stations in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as well as in Pennsylvania, New York and Hawaii.
Signals had been restored in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands given the storms there and after FCC chairman Ajit Pai expressed his concern about the impact’s effects.
Lilly TV stations went dark on Dish as of 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, after the previous contract expired.
Lilly stations coming off Dish included WSEEP-TV Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (CBS) (one Caribbean TV); WENY-VI U.S. Virgin Islands (ABC); WSEE-TV Erie, N.Y. (ABC); KITV-TV Honolulu (ABC); and KITV2-TV Honolulu (MeTV).
Discovery CEO David Zaslav used his company’s third-quarter earnings call to offer a fairly extended analysis on how broadcast retransmission consent fees, especially for sports, are putting pressure on the U.S. pay TV industry.
Zaslav pointed out that the U.S. is the only broadcast television market that has retransmission consent, which he said is quite good for broadcasters but not so much for consumers and distributors that have to eat that cost. He also said it’s the only market where sports channels use their leverage to require full carriage of all their sports channels.
“Together with the fact that most sports channels are owned by the retrans broadcasters, you have a combustible combination,” said Zaslav, adding that the U.S. is also the only market with regional sports networks. “Sports has essentially been hyper-extended here to the point of ‘Are you serious?’”
Over four dozen Democratic House members have written Sinclair President Chris Ripley asking for answers to over a dozen questions related to the proposed Tribune merger and its impact on the public interest, as well as suggesting the company commit to not raising retrans fees for its newly acquired stations.
The letter, which was mailed Wednesday evening (Nov. 1), according to a Hill staffer, comes as the FCC is about to start its informal 180-day shot clock on the merger after pausing it to give the public more time to comment on Sinclair’s response to the FCCC’s second request for info on the deal.
AT&T has come to a new carriage agreement with Dispatch Broadcasting, returning two Dispatch-owned stations to the lineups of DIRECTV and U-verse TV after a five-week blackout.
Dispatch pulled the two stations — WTHR-TV (NBC affiliate in Indianapolis) and WBNS-TV (CBS affiliate in Columbus, Ohio) — from the two AT&T-owned TV services on September 6 when the old carriage pact expired.
But the companies announced they had reached a new agreement on Friday. The two sides were fighting over how much AT&T and DIRECTV should pay to carry the local channels. Terms of the new agreement were not revealed.
PBS NewsHour devoted a segment this week to the merger, saying the merger was raising concerns “because of Sinclair’s policy of combining news with partisan political opinion.”
It was clear where PBS was coming from given the headline: “How Sinclair broadcasting puts a partisan tilt on trusted local news,” and from the fact that a link to the broadcast was circulated by the Coalition to Save Local Media with the headline: “PBS NewsHour Sounds the Alarm on Sinclair Tribune.”
In a notification to the Connecticut regulators, Altice stated the changes are the result of “escalating fees charged by sports networks and broadcasters” without singling out by name Disney or its Bristol-based subsidiary ESPN. Hearst Connecticut Media parent Hearst Corp. holds a 20 percent ownership share in the sports giant.
Hal Levy, who chairs a local consumer advisory council for Altice’s territory extending from Greenwich to Westport and north to Redding and Easton, noted Connecticut has not regulated Optimum programming or fees since 2008 when prior operator Cablevision surrendered its cable TV franchise for a Certificate of Video Franchise Authority.
“These are now entirely business decisions,” Levy said. “The company, as well as the entire video services industry, has been citing increases in (broadcast) TV fees and sports carriage fees as major drivers of increased programming costs.”
The American Cable Association hopes to bring attention to tactics used by broadcasters in retransmission consent negotiations that it considers objectionable with a PR effort launched Wednesday. The campaign, dubbed “TV Ransom,” will utilize social media, op-eds and media outreach to get out in front of the myriad operator-broadcaster disputes, potential blackouts and result rate increases the ACA anticipates this retrans season. The group is also providing member operators with information it can distribute to customers.
“We’re letting everybody know that our members are expecting a horrible time in their retransmission consent negotiations,” said ACA President & CEO Matthew Polka. “Those negotiations, because of market consolidation and regulatory advantage, are going to be very difficult for their customers, and we’re going to be calling out what’s taking place in the market to harm consumers all across America.”
Hurricane season may be—thankfully—winding down, but retrans renewal season is just around the corner and the American Cable Association is referencing both in launching a new “TV Ransom” national campaign to put the blame squarely on broadcasters for TV station blackouts and escalating fees.
“Across the country hundreds of local cable operators are beginning to negotiate with a handful of corporate media conglomerates that own many of the local TV station affiliates for ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC,” said ACA. “”Retransmission consent should be a straight-forward business negotiation, but, unfortunately, these corporate broadcasters abuse their market power to extract outrageous fees from cable customers,” ACA President Matt Polka said of the campaign’s launch.