Today, local news is threatened by regulations that need to be modernized for the current media environment and overall government inaction to protect local journalism. Our Coalition was launched to raise public awareness of this critical issue and galvanize support for swift action to protect local news before it’s too late.
Since our launch, some have argued that our efforts would lead to higher prices for consumers or to more service disruptions on streaming services. Others — including streaming service Fubo and a recently launched counter coalition made up primarily of the conglomerates of the ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC networks and their own streaming businesses — argue that because streaming services distribute local broadcast stations today, there is no need to modernize regulations, or even that the FCC has no power to act at all.
While the FCC appears to have already dispelled the myth about its authority to regulate this field, all of these arguments are simply wrong.
Streaming services already pay for the right to carry local broadcast stations, which means the costs are already baked into the prices they charge consumers.
The problem is that right now streamers secure the right to carry local stations not from the stations themselves, but rather through deals cut directly with the national networks—which in some instances are outrageously owned by the same entity. As a result, the networks decide both how much streamers pay for local stations and how much of that value actually makes it to local stations. This system only exists because streamers are not yet subject to the same regulations that require traditional pay-TV providers like cable and satellite companies to negotiate directly with local stations.
That means local broadcast stations don’t have a seat at the table to negotiate with streamers or even get a peek behind the curtain of the deals forged with the networks. They are presented instead with take-it-or-leave it terms for carriage of their stations. Unsurprisingly, that leads to stations not getting fair compensation for the value of what they produce, and far less than what’s needed to sustain their investment in local news for the long-term. Ultimately, local stations are faced with a choice: accept inferior compensation or risk their ability to continue to produce vital local news and information for their communities. Contrary to some suggestions, deregulation alone won’t address this imbalance of power.
So yes, viewers may see some local stations on streaming services. But these stations are being carried on the basis of unfair agreements, which cut local broadcasters out of the negotiating process and leave stations with less resources to produce local news. Moreover, in many cases, as outlined in a comment filed by One Ministries and an ex parte filed by The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB), independent stations reaching diverse and religious audiences don’t get distributed on these platforms at all.
That’s what has to change.
For decades, the rules that governed the relationship and direct negotiations between local stations and pay-TV companies worked for everyone. Distributors got to deliver the most-watched programming, including local news. Networks built successful nationwide franchises. Stations produced dependable and responsible local news. And local communities reaped the public benefit of an educated and well-informed citizenry. Of course, it wasn’t always perfect. In some circumstances, negotiation breakdowns lead to service disruptions. But those represented a small percentage of the overall market. In contrast, when negotiations between a network and streamer break down — as happened with Disney and YouTube TV in 2021 — carriage is disrupted not only for the network’s owned-and-operated channels but also for all of the network’s local affiliates across the country.
There is no reason that modernized rules setting a level playing field shouldn’t work for streaming services while maintaining local news as a sustainable business.
Local broadcasters provide a vital public service. Just look at the millions of Americans that tune in daily to access local news for critical and life-saving information such as the impact of recent heat waves that have devastated many parts of the nation. Local stations are not only the primary source of coverage of these types of events in many communities, but in many instances local stations are the only source. This isn’t simply about money. It is about applying the rules fairly across the board and recognizing the immense public and social good that local broadcasters offer the communities they serve. Giving local stations the right to negotiate for their own content is not only the fair thing to do, it’s essential to preserving local journalism throughout our country.