About half of the thousands of letters the FCC has received about Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA) proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) and AT&T's (NYSE: T) planned acquisition of DirecTV (NASDAQ: DTV) have come from viewers who want their RFD-TV.
The viewers are worried that a merger between bigger companies will squeeze out a channel that focuses on things they want to watch, like Classic Tractor Fever and All-American Cowgirl Chicks. It's not the sort of programming that draws big audiences in urban and suburban markets, and that's the concern: those markets are where big companies like Comcast and AT&T put their major focus.
"Quite frankly there are no other TV stations out there that carry the programming that RFD carries," Carl Saveley, an attorney from Sparks, Nev., said in a Wall Street Journal story. "If the big city boys decide to drop them, as some have already done, that programming is gone."
RFD-TV hardly seems to have the credentials that would dazzle a huge media conglomerate. The 13-year-old company averages about 137,000 prime time viewers, almost all of whom are 55 or older who are attracted to the channels mix of farm-themed shows, rodeos and reruns of live news broadcasts from the grain and livestock pits at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
"Not everyone lives in Manhattan," Patrick Gottsch, founder of Rural Media Group said in the WSJ article. "Everything can't be directed at 18-to34-year old urban audiences."
History gives the rural folks a platform to be concerned. Comcast dropped RFD-TV last year in Colorado and New Mexico and, while AT&T is touting its broadband Internet coverage for rural households, it doesn't carry RFD-TV on its U-verse TV service.
That's a matter of viewer demographics, an AT&T spokesman told the publication, noting that "there has not been a lot of demand for programming geared specifically to rural audiences."
Less ominously, perhaps, DirecTV CEO Mike White, in answer to a question at a U.S. Senate hearing in June, said he'd make an effort to convince AT&T "that RFD-TV would be great for them to carry" as it already is on DirecTV.
- The Wall Street Journal has this story
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