TV interest groups rise to fight the retransmission wars

Every player within the TV entertainment space--broadcasters, cable and satellite service providers and consumer groups--has an opinion on retransmission fees.

And now it seems that every interest group has formed an organization to front its stance. Most recently, broadcasters formed their own subset, TVFreedom, to seek consumer support in the industry's fight with the American Television Alliance (ATVA), the group representing cable and satellite providers.

TVFreedom sent a letter to eight public interest groups--Public Knowledge, Free Press, Consumers Union, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, New America Foundation, National Consumer League and Public Citizen--asking them to "join the organization in developing an open and collaborative process that will place a public spotlight on the abusive billing and business practices being undertaken by the cable and satellite TV industry that are harming consumers," a Broadcasting & Cable story said.

The consumer groups were given a list of points about how broadcasters work and how their content is distributed in the hopes of finding "common ground" among the organizations and figuring "out a game plan going forward," TVFreedom public affairs director Rob Kenny told Adweek.

That common ground might be there but it's about as stable as quicksand.

"Anyone might be right on one issue and wrong on another," John Bergmayer, senior attorney for Public Knowledge told Adweek. "We form alliance around issues. We have no permanent allies and no permanent friends."

Bergmayer, on the other hand, while admitting the broadcasters don't have "the purest of motivations," conceded that the points within the letter are "correct."

ATVA, of course, has its own take on the matter--one that favors the cable and satellite industries and, it says, consumers.

"This letter from broadcasters is nothing more than a smokescreen to distract from skyrocketing retransmission consent fees and a record number of TV blackouts," ATVA spokesman Brian Frederick told B&C.

ATVA chose another front on which to do battle: the broadcasters' claim that their channels are there to ensure public safety and the federal government should continue to mandate their presence on a pay service basic tier. The basic tier provision is being disputed by pay TV industry supporters.

"As with retransmission consent, the basic tier provision was designed to support 'localism' … but today nearly all of the network affiliates in major cities around the country are owned by out-of-state companies and only one out of two stations actually shows any 'local' news," Frederick blogged in an item carried by The Hill.

For more:
- Broadcasting & Cable has this story
- Adweek has this story
- and The Hill has this blog entry

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