TV Blackouts Force Viewers, Markets To Consider Alternatives

by , Nov 9, 2012, 12:33 PM
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TV-Black-screenLong-term TV viewers and marketers may seek out more digital alternatives when it comes to multi-TV network provider blackouts. They may also force the Federal Communications Commission to take action, according to one media agency.

Media agency TargetCast says some 70 individual cable and/or multi-network TV services blackouts have hit viewers so far in 2012 --- with perhaps no end in sight. Most blackouts, it says, only last a few days. But TargetCast believes longer outages will force governmental action.

In an email from TargetCast representatives, the agency says: "We believe that there will have to be significantly more, and longer, blackout periods for Congress and the FCC to take action. For the most part, the system is working, as the majority of the 15,000 [plus] deals are done successfully and quietly behind the scenes, with only 1% becoming public disputes impacting viewers."

Looking at specific multichannel TV providers, TargetCast notes that carriage disputes rose to 51 in 2011 from 12 in 2010.  Dish Network had the most disputes -- over 22 of the 42 blackouts since March 2010, according to the American Television Alliance. DirecTV had six blackouts in that time frame; Time Warner Cable was involved in five.

What about TV marketers? Michael Parent, senior vice president and director of national broadcast for TargetCast, says even with long blackouts -- such as the recently concluded AMC Network-Dish Network carriage fight, which lasted months -- TV advertisers are not materially affected. As it is with all national TV networks media deals, he says: "All of our deals are guaranteed."

Even then, TV marketers have the option of taking back media money and buying other networks.

Cyndi April, senior vice president and group account director of TargetCast, says it's more likely to affect individual TV station and local TV advertisers -- if at all.

WPIX in New York was hampered when parent company Tribune Broadcasting got into a long blackout period with New York-area cable operator Cablevision Systems. The problem for local TV advertisers is that such TV media deals aren't usually guaranteed -- unlike national TV media deals. Even then, she says many individual TV stations typically look for ways to make marketers whole.

Should more blackouts come to pass, TargetCast says the digital world could increasing give viewers -- and marketers --  some options: "They may be opening wider a window of opportunity where digital viewing options are explored by 'shut out' networks, so viewers are not deprived of favorite programming.  As cross-screen viewing becomes more common, TV everywhere may take on new meaning."

When might the FCC get involved? Parent believes, for example, a blackout lasting for a long period of time affecting a highly-viewed TV franchise, like the NFL, would get some attention. He says: "It'll be about something that viewers are passionate about."

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