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The CBS/TimeWarner Cable/WFLX vs DISH retrans feuds got me thinking.

If your local television station has been removed from cable or satellite, and asks you to call your pay TV provider and complain, do not do it. Unless of course you don’t mind being a pawn for the station’s owners who are actually using you, the viewer they so care about, as leverage so they wrestle a higher monthly fee from every cable/satellite TV subscriber, that you and every other customer pay trough your bill – for something the TV stations give away for free.

The so-called retransmision consent fee, a.k.a. retrans fee, is what broadcast stations are allowed to charge Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Dish, DirecTV etc. for the privilege of letting you watch them via cable or satellite, and not with an over-the-air antenna. The retrans fee comes out of your bill every month. Actually, the majority of your cable bill goes to cable channel owners whether you like them, watched their channels, or not. Don’t watch ESPN? You’re still paying almost $6 a month, $72 a year, for it. Don’t care for ABC Family? Oh well, that would be $1 this month, and $12 for the year. Thanks. Of course don’t forget, you’re paying a second time by being bombarded with ads – 44 16 minutes of them in an hour on average.

Your local TV stations’ owners are now in the same game as cable channels after the FCC lifted the restrictions not too long ago. They want you to pay them once by watching advertising, and a second time by taking the retrans fee from your cable bill every month. In South Florida for example, WSFL-TV, a crappy third-rate TV station that airs 6 hours of Maury Povich, Jerry Springer, and Bill Cunningham a day allegedly gets between $0.20 and $0.25 from each cable/satellite subscriber, per month. CBS is said to be already at or near $1 for its affiliate TV stations like WFOR. And the FOX network now demands its affiliate stations, like WSVN, either pay it $0.25-$0.50 in retrans fees for each cable subscriber they get or find another network to partner with.

Some TV execs have stated publicly that they want to get retrans fees closer to what ESPN charges. Research firm SNL Kagan estimates that by 2018, a mere 5 years from now, broadcast TV stations in the US will net $6,052.2 billion a year from retrans fees alone. For 2012 that figure is at $2,3 billion and for 2013 it’s projected to cross $3billion dollars.

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So in another couple of years it isn’t inconceivable to predict that TV stations like WFOR, WSVN, WPLG and WTVJ alone could be getting about $2-$4 each per month from your bill. That’s anywhere from $96 to $192 per year just for just the Big 4 broadcast stations in your market. For comparison Netflix costs $8/month or $96 a year, and gives you unlimited streaming of TV shows and movies without commercials, and on pretty much any device you want. Or Amazon Prime, which for $79/year gets you free streaming à la Netflix of 41,000 titles, free 2-day shipping, and even borrowing Kindle books for free.

So instead of being a pawn, and helping TV station owners suck more money out of you, call your cable provider and tell them you support them. Then call your local TV station, or better yet also leave them a comment on Facebook when they beg you to call the big, bad cable company and ask them why they want to charge you more and more money for something they are otherwise giving away for free to anyone with an antenna?

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The Tribune company emerged from bankruptcy on December 31, 2012 after 4 years of trying to shed the billions of dollars it owed creditors. Its new owners are JP Morgan, Oaktree Capital and Angelo, Gordon & Co who will decide what happens next to the 167 year old media conglomerate. Those are the same three companies who took over Freedom Communications after it emerged from bankruptcy last year.

In South Florida, Tribune owns The Sun Sentinel which is now the biggest newspaper in the area and WSFL-TV, the local CW affiliate. Nationally it owns the ‘LA Times’, ‘Chicago Tribune’, WGN Superstation and other properties. No one really knows how this would turn out but for the last several weeks Reuters and other news outlets have reported rumors that the new Tribune will be focusing on its TV properties and will sell all or most of its newspapers whose value has gone down considerably in the last several years. Tribune’s new board of directors is stacked with former TV executives and Peter Liguori, the man said to be its new CEO, is widely credited for successfully relaunching cable channel FX.

Generally, creditors like JP Morgan, Oaktree and Angelo, Gordon & Co. specialise in extracting the most value out of whatever assets they get their hands on post-bankruptcy so ‘For Sale’ signs may be showing up across Tribune’s properties soon.

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If Tribune and DirecTV do not come to a retransmission fee agreement by the 31st of March, stations like SFLTV… pardon, WSFL, may go dark for DirecTV customers in South Florida much like WSVN did back in January. The talk from both sides in this conflict is very similar to that of WSVN vs DirecTV. DirecTV released a statement saying

“We believe Tribune’s local news and other programming is important to the public, have always compensated Tribune fairly and have no problem continuing to do so. We have absolutely no intention of denying anyone access to these stations, unless Tribune specifically demands it.”

Sounds familiar doesn’t it! Tribune on its part brought up the “fair value” card saying: “Despite our best efforts, DirecTV is refusing to offer a fair deal and we remain far apart in negotiations,”.

 

/hat tip Matt/