Programming fee disputes have resulted in all-time highs for channel black-outs this year. Roughly 19 million subscribers have been affected by the five blackouts that have taken place so far in 2010. This is the highest blackout level for a single year since 2000.
The disputes have involved some big name companies, including Dish Network and News Corp., Cablevision and Disney among others, and have resulted in viewers losing channels during the Oscars and several high-profile professional sports games. The situation this year could get worse, as Cablevision and Dish are in the throws of negotiation with News Corp., which has resulted in some Fox programming going dark for Dish customers. The same could happen to Cablevision customers should negotiations break down.
I’ve written on this topic several times, and it’s a situation that is not likely to improve any time soon. When a single network has the exclusive rights to extremely high-demand product, the laws of monopoly come into play. When that happens, content providers have the ability not only to charge whatever rate they desire but also to demand that their programming be placed on the most widely distributed package making everyone pay for it.
Meanwhile, as prices for the networks increase at alarming rates, consumers are demanding more optionality in what they pay for forcing distributors into pushing back harder than ever to keep consumer rates low. That's why this problem is on the rise.
Programmers and distributors will continue to battle over these rates. Meanwhile, alternate measures are being considered, including everything from a la carte pricing to requests for the FCC by the American Television Alliance to change the retransmission consent rules to prohibit broadcasters from pulling their signals while negotiations continue in good faith.
Let's hope for some good common sense between networks and distributors and remember what this is all about -- consumers.