Blackout Fallout: Indie Nets Suffering From Higher Retrans Rates

Cablefax Daily – Thursday – September 26th, 2019

The biggest challenge for an independent programmer isn’t getting its foot in the door of a major operator. It’s convincing that operator that there should be room in the programming budget devoted to independent, diverse voices. Instead, more and more of those dollars and cents are being spent on retransmission consent deals that keep content from broadcasters and major programmers on the channel lineups of Comcast, Charter and others. “For what I pay for ABC in a market like Chicago, I could carry 30 Revolts,” WOW! svp, video programming Roger Seiken said at a panel Wednesday held by the Multicultural Media Caucus. “Think about the diversity and opportunity to bring on great programming that we just can’t do because of the way these fees are going.” Independent programmers believe their content is just as valuable as any other major net. They just want the space to show it off. “We’re not afraid of competing,” Kids Central co-owner Augusto Valdez said. “Just give us the opportunity to compete.” Kids Central got a carriage boost when Comcast launched the Hispanic American-owned network in January 2017 as part of its commitments made with the NBCU acquisition. Comcast committed to launching 10 new independently owned and operated networks by 2019, including eight that are minority-owned or -operated. The panelists spoke highly of the Modern Television Act of 2019, a bipartisan bill from Reps Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) that would repeal aspects of the 1992 Cable Act, including retransmission consent and compulsory copyright license, to increase competition and put an end to the growing number of blackouts. “It’s the recognition by this Congress that the current system is broken and we need to reform it… by putting a good faith requirement in, the possibility for an arbitration proceeding… provisions so that broadcasters can’t go nuclear and just take out a channel on New Year’s Eve before the biggest ball game of the year,” Seiken said. DISH svp, public policy and government Jeffrey Blum also spoke of the need for the reauthorization of STELAR, which is set to sunset at the end of the year. “We shouldn’t have 259 blackouts this year. We shouldn’t have consumers paying $11bln in retrans when broadcasters got their spectrum for free,” Blum said. “Blackouts hurt us. They don’t really hurt the broadcasters.” Independent programmers are getting by, embracing other avenues to reach their audiences. “The things that continue to allow us to grow are new platforms,” Revolt svp/head of content distribution James Brown said, adding that Sling TV has been a great alternative. “You see us taking advantage of digital platforms and social platforms because we were born in this era, but at the same time, there are folks that we’re not getting to.” Revolt is another network that Comcast agreed to launch to meet its commitment to launch independent networks. “Revolt got started literally because of Comcast and NBC,” he said, adding that others came on board because they believed in it. “What was then Time Warner signed up and they didn’t need it for an MOU. They just saw a great business reason to have this.” Ultimately, Seikin said independent programmers are doing everything right in their attempts to impress cable distributors. So when the money’s not there, he encourages the independents to join the conversation on Capitol Hill. “Tell your members of Congress. Talk to the FCC commissioners. Tell them that the system is not working and needs to be updated, to fix the outdated regulations so that we can then champion a lot of great content,” he said. The Congressional Caucus was founded in 2016 to examine issues related to the state of diversity and inclusion in the media, telecom, and tech industries. It’s chaired by Reps Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Tony Cardenas (D-CA) and Judy Chu (D-CA).

Multicultural Media Caucus photographic record