Broadcast networks and their affiliate associations have teamed up with broadcast groups, mobile digital broadcasters and others to launch TVfreedom.org, which will advocate for broadcast retransmission consent rights in the ongoing battle with cable operators in Washington.
NAB has taken the lead on pushing back against cable operator arguments that retrans blackouts are a growing trend and an example of an unfair system skewed toward broadcasters. That cable argument has been made mostly by the American Television Alliance (ATVA), which includes Time Warner Cable and satellite operators, among others.
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association recently signaled it was moving from the sidelines to take a more active roll in the retrans debate. Now broadcasters are launching an ATVA-like coalition to add more firepower on their side of the contentious fight.
"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 the new group. "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."
ATVA has cited blackouts to argue for retrans changes including mandatory arbitration and standstills, as well as pushing the FCC to crack down on joint sales and services agreements it argues are end runs around local ownership rules in service of joint retrans bargaining that unfairly favors broadcasters.
The group made no secret of their effort to counter ATVA. "Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and DISH, among other pay-TV providers, initiated an intense public relations campaign aimed at getting government assistance to bypass the existing system that, today, fairly compensates broadcasters," the group said in announcing their formation.
"Broadcasters produce the highest-rated content on television and provide a public service by reporting on natural disasters, extreme weather and other emergencies. These pay-TV providers have created a false political crisis and are seeking government intervention to gain an unfair advantage in the marketplace over broadcasters."
"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," said group spokesman Rob Kenny. "We urge pay-TV providers to negotiate in good faith with broadcasters on retransmission consent in all cases."
It will also advocate for modernizing communications laws, an effort currently underway in the House Energy & Commerce Committee. In fact, while a spokesperson confirms the focus is retrans, it will also work 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."
The group will launch an ad campaign Feb. 4 to make their points to policymakers.
The roster of TVfreedom.com members at launch included the following 23 members, but the group says they expect to increase that list:
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
13. Mobile500 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
22. Rural Agricultural Council of America (RACA)
23. Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB)