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NAB Chief Gordon Smith Chides AT&T And Dish Network For Broadcast Blackouts

Dade Hayes

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With multiple carriage battles leaving broadcast TV signals dark for millions of pay-TV customers, Gordon Smith, the ex-Senator who heads the National Association of Broadcasters, is pinning blame on Dish Network and AT&T.

CBS and AT&T reached an impasse late last Friday, leaving CBS-owned stations (including a handful of CW affiliates) dark in 14 markets. Stations owned by Nexstar in more than 100 markets have also been dark on AT&T platforms since early July. Dish Network, meanwhile, has been in a standoff with Meredith, which owns 17 local TV stations, and has a set of contracts expiring with Disney, including one that could jeopardize Fox’s broadcast signal.

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Both satellite operators have charged that programmers are asking for exorbitant rate increases given the overall decline in linear viewership, among other complaints.

Speaking at the Media Institute’s Communications Forum luncheon in Washington on Tuesday, Smith said the operators are making broadcasters “pawns in a political game that aims to upend the retransmission consent system.”

Smith said AT&T and Dish are responsible for more than four out of five retransmission consent disruptions industry-wide over the past eight years.

The high-stakes, $81 million acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T has affected the telecom company’s pay-TV strategy, Smith added.

“AT&T is the same company that is currently making decisions to withhold its content from viewers on competing platforms in the immediate aftermath of a merger where they committed just the opposite to regulators,” he said. “It is the same company asking for exorbitant fees for their own content offerings, while refusing to fairly compensate broadcasters’ highest-rated programming.”

The Oregon Republican stumped for broadcast programming as the most-viewed on the air, a familiar theme of his tenure at the NAB.

“If not for the compensation broadcasters receive for their highly-valued programming – programming that AT&T, DISH and others re-sell to customers – broadcasters would be unable to support investigative journalism and expensive sports coverage and invest in sophisticated weather operations that save lives and provide in-depth local news coverage,” Smith said.

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