Senators Seek End to TV Sports Blackouts
Also asked FCC to consider prohibiting the blackout of live sporting events during retrans disputes
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/13/2012 6:16:20 PM
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A quintet of senators has told the FCC it is time for the FCC to try and end sports blackouts.
That came in a letter filed in response to a petition by the Sports Fans Coalition to lift the FCc's sports blackout rules. Those prohibit cable and satellite companies from carrying sports contests -- NFL games in particular -- that have been blacked out on broadcast TV due to contractual obligations.
"We believe it is time for the NFL's blackout policy to end," said Senators Tom Harkin, Debbie Stabenow, Frank Lautenberg, Richard Blumenthal and Sherrod Brown in a letter to the FCC. They also took aim at the "byzantine" restrictions on MLB games that result in blackouts.
Broadcasters would be OK if there were no blackouts, but lifting the FCC rule by itself would not change the contracts. It would, instead, allow MVPDs to import the games into a local broadcaster's market when they could not carry them due to contractural restrictions.
While they were at it, the senators knocked retrans and program carriage impasse blackouts, pointing to the dispute between Time Warner Cable and MSG that has resulted in blackouts of Knicks, Rangers, Islanders, Sabres and Devils games and the since-resolved impasse between Sunbeam and DirecTV that blacked out an NFL divisional playoff game.
They asked the FCC to work with the league to end blackouts if the commission, like the Senators, concluded they did not serve the public interest.
The senators also urged the FCC to give "serious consideration" in its open rulemaking proposal on retrans reform to the harm fans suffer when companies can't reach agreement, and asked it to consider prohibiting the blackout of live sporting events during retrans disputes, leverage broadcasters aren't looking to give up.
The FCC in its rulemaking proposal at least entertained the idea of waiving other exclusivity rules -- syndex and network nonduplication rules.
The elephant in the room is that the FCC should not be in the business of content regulation beyond broader policies over the proper use of the public airwaves, like indecency. Why on earth is the FCC involved in whether I can watch a baseball game or not? The FCC has overstepped their purpose and have become entangled in private business issues.
Stephen Graham - 2/14/2012 12:11:40 PM EST
We seem to have two entirely different matters being discussed here...one is the "Blackout" that occurs when the team does not want TV siphoning away their in-stadium crowd when the game is not sold-out. That is an issue with the teams and their owners and leagues.
The other is "retransmission", which is a contract between the cable/sat providers, and the legitimate owners of the rights to a broadcast...the stations/affiliates.
While the first instance is a simple contract issue, the second is a dispute between two parties, the cable/satellite providers and the stations, and NOT a "denial" of any particular viewer's "rights".
The simple answer is, if you don't get the service from one provider, change to a provider who has the rights to the broacast in your area. If the FCC is going to get involved, it should make it easier for a "customer" to change providers, whether it be via a different Cable company, a diferent satellite company, or simply a switch to an antenna.
Legislative interference with the local station's exclusive programming rights is not in the best interests of everyone involved.
Ken W. English - 2/14/2012 9:09:36 AM EST
Please stop csnphilly from blocking Phillies baseball games on directv regional sports networks.WE live over 100 miles from Philadelphia and can not watch their games because they blackout their games even if they are all sold out.
Charles Maurer - 2/13/2012 8:31:17 PM EST
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