The year is only a little more than halfway over, yet 2019 television blackouts already have reached the previous annual record, according to the American Television Alliance (ATVA). The year already has seen 213 blackouts in which broadcasters block video providers from carrying their content, said ATVA, which includes consumer groups, video providers and independent programmers.

The previous annual record was set in 2017. Last year’s annual total was 165.

2019 Television Blackouts
Blackouts occur when video providers fail to reach an agreement to carry broadcasters’ content before an existing agreement expires. The latest blackout involves media conglomerate Meredith Corporation, which owns television stations in multiple markets. Earlier this week, Meredith blocked content from millions of DISH Network customers in 12 television markets in 18 states, ATVA said.

A Nexstar blackout is also underway, blocking DIRECTV, U-Verse and DIRECTV Now customers from receiving 125 local stations in approximately 100 cities across the U.S.

There are probably more to come. AT&T and CBS are in high-stakes negotiations with the possibility of CBS owned and operated stations, including CBS stations in some of the largest cities in the U.S., headed for a blackout on Directv.

In a press release, ATVA urged Congress to reauthorize the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (known as STELA or STELAR). That act requires local broadcasters to make content available to satellite video providers such as DIRECTV and DISH. The act was originally passed in 2010 and reauthorized in 2014 but is set to expire in December.

STELAR reauthorization is particularly important to rural consumers, who may have no option other than satellite for receiving video programming.

Retransmission Consent
Reauthorizing STELAR may be only part of a solution to ongoing blackouts, however. Some video providers also argue that retransmission consent laws favor broadcasters and have led to steep increases in programming costs, as well as blackouts when negotiations falter.

“Congress should not only re-authorize STELAR so rural America can continue receiving all their broadcast channels, but also modernize the retransmission consent rules, which currently favor broadcasters at the expense of consumers and competition,” said an ATVA spokesperson in the press release about the 2019 television blackouts.

Retransmission consent battles and other challenges with video in general are driving smaller providers to consider dropping traditional pay-TV offerings. Some are already doing so.

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9 thoughts on “ATVA: Retransmission Battles Rage On, Record TV Blackouts in 2019 Already

  1. If there was ever a case of short term greed that will end up bringing down the entire house, this seems to be it. Maybe broadcasters want all distributors to give up, so they can go direct via OTT? None of it makes sense.

    1. I think the day is coming when over-the-air TV will be gone. The spectrum is just too valuable for other applications such as cellular. Plus, the TV stations are all available on Dish and DirecTV where they can easily get paid for carriage, with the occasional blackout as this article talks about. TV stations do not want anyone watching their channel for free any more. The need for an antenna and off-air service is much less significant than it used to be.

  2. The situation has gotten worse in Oklahoma for cable operators in smaller cities and towns, and most of them are now gone, out of business. A couple of years ago, when all the TV stations moved to a new common broadcast tower, they reduced their broadcast power and cut back their coverage area significantly. Here at our location, after the digital transition we were able to receive every Oklahoma City TV station via antenna with no problem. Now we cannot receive a single one except via a translator tower a few miles away. The new common broadcast tower is only a mile away from the old tower, so there are no obstructions present that were not there before, they have to have cut their power in the move.

    When all this happened, we dropped all the broadcast stations and satellite channels and switched to only being an internet service via cable modem provider. It was the smartest decision we have made in 38 years of being in business. We did not lose any customers and are making more money than ever before, enough to upgrade our service to almost gigabit level, which can be VERY expensive if you are not located very close to an urban area. People don't watch much traditional TV any more, for a variety of reasons, constant reality TV shows, channels no longer showing any programming related to their name, Netflix, etc. Data service is where it's at now.

  3. Pretty clear to me that broadcasters are even greedier than the cable/satellite operators, and that's quite an accomplishment!
    Constantly asking for more money for programs that they have little to do with producing.
    Of course, the networks demand claw-backs from the broadcasters, so everybody has some larceny in their heart.
    Have I got that figured about right?

  4. I think you are partially correct. A lot of the"greed" that has been attributed to cable operators over the years is mis-placed. We had contracts with programmers that provided for annual price increases, based on what I don't know but those contracts were written by the programmers, not us. If we wanted to carry a popular service, we just had to pay up what the contract specified or risk losing customers because that popular service was not on our system. Negotiation was impossible even though it was theoretically on the table. So, for example, ESPN, an absolutely necessary channel to carry or people would drop cable in droves, began by charging $.50/month/customer and began throwing money around like candy in the form of ENORMOUS carriage rights agreements with professional leagues, to the point that it now costs over $10/month/subscriber, a huge portion of a customer's cable bill. Contract restrictions prohibited making ESPN a pay service, required that we carry them on low-number channels, and required us to carry ESPNews, ESPN Classic, ESPN Deportes as well, and dictated what channels we could carry them on. Then there is Viacom with their MTV Networks contracts, which, if you want to carry just MTV, required you to carry VH-1, Comedy Central, and half a dozen other worthless channels as well. Neither of these situations is the result of "greed" of cable operators, it is purely due to restrictions and requirements of programmers. Sure, we could have told them to fly a kite but that would have killed our business. In the end, we told the entire video industry to fly a kite, we were not going to put up with any of their tactics, after the situation got so bad it was completely untenable. Dish and DirecTV can just have it, and deal with the programmers. Considering how fast fees for those two services are rising and the problems they are having with blackouts due to rapidly rising re-transmission fees, it is quite evident that the situation they are enduring is exactly the same as it was when we dealt with programmers and broadcasters. I am SO happy to be out of that mess!.

    Now as far as off-air goes, I think you are correct. I think the broadcast networks would be just fine with doing away with off-air antenna broadcasting. They want to be paid, they do not want people using rabbit ears to watch their programming because they don't get paid that way. Use Dish or DirecTV, they get paid. Use cable, they get paid. They have seen the revenue stream and they want that exclusively now.

  5. Glenn,
    I appreciate the response. VERY informative.
    I would feel more sympathy for my cable provider if they hadn't raised my cable card from nothing/month to a net of $8.00/month. And, they continue to find new imaginative fees to add on to my bill.
    But, I absolutely have no use for ESPN, and your example of how cable gets jerked around by groups like theirs makes perfect sense.

  6. A local fiber internet service provider recently quit offering a television service, and I suspect they had exactly the same experiences you mentioned with providers.

  7. The entire TV landscape has changed greatly from what it was just a few years ago. Some changes have been gradual over the years, such as channels straying from what they were when they first launched. Food Network used to be about cooking how-tos, different types of food, more educational. Now it is nothing but food competition shows and endless blocks of Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. I am completely amazed at how many times they can recycle the same 4-5 "stars" into all the verious permutations of them vs. each other.

    History Channel used to be about history, now it's all reality shows that have absolutely nothing to do with history. Learning Channel and Discovery used to be about science, shows like How It's Made, you could learn something over the course of an evening. Now they do reality shows that are worthless. I could go on with Bravo, A&E, and all the others who have lost their way.

    Even the broadcast networks have fallen into this trap. They have very little scripted dramas and comedies any more, it is 6-8 hours a week of American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, The Voice, America's Got Talent, World of Dance, Dancing With the Stars, and on & on & on. If you want drama or comedies, etc you are left with Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, they have taken up the mantle for those types of shows. Or you could just surf YouTube all evening long and find all sorts of great videos, either short or long-form that fill the gaps that network TV and cable used to provide. The TV world has changed and not for the best.

  8. Glenn,
    Sorry it took me so long to respond. VERY intelligent comments. Just about every network I used to be interested in have done something stupid as you describe. Live sports, Military History channel, and a few oddballs are about all I have left.
    I think it's all about cutting costs from the network's perspective, especially since the America public seems to prefer pablum.

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