NAB Keeping the Pressure on the FCC about Streaming Services

Nov 15, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Nov. 15, 2023 – The National Association of Broadcasters keeps putting pressure on the Federal Communications Commission to adopt rules that would give local TV stations direct legal control of their negotiations with streaming services that distribute local broadcast signals.

From NAB’s perspective, local TV stations need FCC action because it could lead to higher fees that stations would receive from the likes of YouTubeTV, Hulu + Live TV and other streaming services that distribute local TV signals.

NAB’s latest effort at the FCC came on Nov. 8 when association leaders, led by CEO Curtis LeGeyt, visited with FCC Commissioner Anna Gomez and her acting chief of staff, according to an NAB filing. For now, NAB is asking the agency to revive a decade-old moribund docket that examined the legal classification of streaming services with live local TV signals. But that’s just the first step toward the ultimate goal: New rules.

The legal issue boils down to this: Are the streamers that carry local TV stations the same thing as cable TV operators? If they are, then they would need to bargain for carriage – called retransmission consent – directly with TV station owners. If they are not, then it’s the status quo, and NAB wants to overturn the status quo.

Right now, local TV stations affiliated with ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox are being frozen out of the carriage negotiations with the streamers. The deals with streamers are struck at the network level and the revenue split between the networks and the local stations. Stations owners like Nexstar Media Group and Sinclair Inc. do not like the split, saying they are being undercompensated and could make more in fees if they could deal with the streamers one-on-one.

The politics at the FCC are unlikely to change. FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel does not believe the FCC has authority to classify streamers as cable TV operators. Capitol Hill is pulling her in different directions, with a group of Senators backing NAB and House leaders like House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) saying the classification issue should be left to Congress.

The classification issue isn’t necessarily a panacea.

Effective Nov. 18, YouTube TV is dropping Arizona's Family 3TV (KTVK), broadcast partner of NBA basketball’s Phoenix Suns, after station owner Gray Television and the streamer could not reach a deal. Meanwhile, YouTube TV will continue to carry Arizona's Family CBS 5 (KPHO), evidently consistent with terms of the carriage deal YouTube TV reached with CBS network officials.