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NAB accuses retrans reformers of manufacturing a crisis [updated]

Broadcasters warned the Federal Communications Commission that retransmission reform advocates of “manufacturing” disputes to “spur the government to regulate more heavily.”

The FCC is about to tread into the thorny, never-ending debate over the retransmission consent regime as prescribed by language in the satellite reauthorization bill (STELAR) passed last year. In a section (103) of the bill, Congress asked the FCC to commence a rule making within nine months “to review its totality of the circumstances test for good faith negotiations.”

Meeting with FCC officials last week, executives from the National Association of Broadcasters argued that nearly all retransmission consent agreements are inked without any interruption to consumers’ service.

But as August draws near, the NAB predicted that some pay TV companies would create conflict to try and convince the FCC to make changes to the current retransmission consent regime.

“The commission should… not be surprised by an uptick in pay TV-manufactured disputes as it launches its… proceeding. The commission should keep a close eye on this trend, as bad actors should not be rewarded with government assistance, especially when those actions come, yet again, at consumers’ expense,” the NAB wrote in an ex parte filed with the FCC Monday night.

Citing recent SNL Kagan data, the NAB argued that retrans fees are not the leading reason why consumers’ pay TV bills are growing.

SNL Kagan’s data, released last week, sparked another skirmish between broadcasters and retrans reformers. The data projected broadcast retransmission consent fees would rise to $10.3 billion in 2021, up from $6.2 billion this year. However, broadcast fees are a much smaller percentage, about 12.5 percent, of fees pay TV pays to cable and sports networks.

Retrans reform advocates pounced on the NAB’s ex parte, calling it a “bombshell” and blaming broadcasters for 400 blackouts in the past five years.

“The suggestion that Pay TV providers are manufacturing this blackout crisis is laughable,” said Trent Duffy, a spokesperson for the American Television Alliance, whose members include Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, Dish, and MediaCom Communications.

“When a blackout occurs, there is only one party responsible for depriving consumers of their signal: the broadcaster. Broadcasters abuse old laws to gouge consumers for what is supposed to be free over the air programming,” Duffy added.