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July 18th, 2019 8:56 pm
TV Blackouts Reconfirm Need for Free Market Regulatory Reform
Posted by Print

For over two weeks now, failed retransmission negotiations between AT&T and Nexstar Media Group have deprived customers across the United States of 120 Nexstar television stations in 97 markets.

That’s unfortunately something to which far too many Americans have become accustomed recently, as 2019 has already witnessed more TV blackouts than any year in history.  And the news only gets worse:  CBS is now warning that stations in numerous major markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and others, could be blacked out as this week concludes.

Here’s the overarching problem.  Current laws dating all the way back to 1992 empower the federal government to pick TV market winners and losers by tipping the scales during negotiations.  Those laws governing what’s known as “retransmission consent,” “must-carry” obligations and “compulsory copyright” all derive from a bygone era, when most markets were served by a solitary cable provider.  But today, almost 30 years later, we obviously live in a drastically different consumer marketplace.  Specifically, alternative services like satellite, internet and other cable providers provide an expansive array of consumer options in the TV marketplace.

Yet here we are in 2019, with applicable federal regulations that remain unchanged, and fail to accommodate the fundamental video market evolution that has occurred.  Consequently, broadcasters today possess an unfair regulatory advantage in negotiations with providers, which in turn empowers them to insist upon excessive retransmission consent fees while retaining the alternative option of invoking must-carry rules.  In that manner, outdated laws inhibit free market principles from functioning in what should be an ever-evolving consumer marketplace.

And who pays the steepest price of all?  Consumers.  Including in the form of blackouts like we’re witnessing.

To finally put an end to these increasing blackouts, and spare consumers the headaches, we must reduce the federal government’s interference in the nationwide video marketplace.  That will allow broadcasters and video programming distributors to negotiate in a more even, market-centered environment.  An optimal scenario would be to enact the Next Generation Television Marketplace Act proposed earlier by Congressman Steve Scalise (R – Louisiana).  But in any event, consumers should demand that the federal bureaucracy remove its metaphorical finger from the scale, and instead finally allow all parties to negotiate in a free market, one in which neither side enjoys an inherent regulatory advantage.  Eliminate the outdated regulations, and allow the free market to work.

In a video market otherwise defined by rapid evolution and ever-greater choices, consumers deserve relief at long last.


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