NAB to FCC: Currently No Better Solution Than Blackout Rules

The National Association of Broadcasters is putting up a goal line stand to the FCC's 5-0 vote last year proposing eliminating the blackout rules.

FCC rules prevent cable and satellite operators from importing distant TV station signals carrying an NFL game that has been blacked out on broadcast TV in a local market due to insufficient ticket sales.

In comments to the FCC Monday, NAB said that eliminating the blackout rules might be expedient in the short run, but would be a "net negative" for sports fans, especially those who get games over the air.

It would seem a counterintuitive argument since the blackouts—though relatively few in number—prevent viewers from seeing the games over the air.

But the NAB argues that if sports leagues can't control their distribution, their games will migrate to pay TV—the leagues have said as much.

NAB said its member stations would like nothing better than to always be able to televise games.

"If there were a solution that could satisfy both constituencies while, at the same time, preserving the clear public benefit of having major sports programming on free television, broadcasters would be the first to support it," NAB said. "Unfortunately, given the interconnection between the Commission’s rules governing broadcast carriage on pay TV and the copyright laws—especially the distant signal compulsory copyright laws—no better solution exists and the Commission’s sports blackout rules remain a necessity."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.