It looks as though 2012 will pick up right where last year left off when it comes to dust-ups over retransmission fees. Owners of local stations continue to hit cable and satellite subscription television services with increased charges when the contracts come up for renewal. The FCC won’t let the services use the same content from adjacent markets, so their only leverage is to turn the channels off and let the subscribers scream. And the screaming doesn’t end when the lights come back on, because the services are just going to fold the increase into the renewal rate.
The latest incident was a doozie, involving DirecTV and 23 of Tribune Broadcasting’s local television stations. The list of 19 affected markets included some major regions: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. Tribune turned off the stations starting at midnight Saturday, March 31, and the agreement was not settled until the evening of Wednesday, April 4.
My guess is that consumers become increasingly upset about the ongoing blackouts, and the FCC is going to start feeling the heat from Congress to come up with a workable solution, such as a “no strike” clause that extends the current contract for a fixed period of time. The underlying problem is that the content providers have more leverage than the services, and until the negotiations can be held on a more level playing field, the blackouts are likely to continue.