TVFreedom promotes, undercuts retransmission fees

Antennas Direct's  C2-V antenna

Antennas Direct’s ClearStream 2 antenna

You know that I love free TV, so I especially love terrestrial, over-the-air TV broadcasters. As a corollary, I also care about OTA TV antennas much more than the average, non-obsessed TV viewer. This week, the broadcasters and an antenna manufacturer are getting together for a public education and assistance outreach program that I would applaud if I weren’t so confused.

First, a bit of background. TVFreedom is … well, it’s easier to quote from their site. “ is a coalition of local broadcasters, community advocates, network television affiliate associations, multicast networks, manufacturers and other independent broadcaster-related organizations. We believe that cable and satellite TV providers should be held accountable for stifling innovation and repeatedly using their own customers as bargaining chips while increasing their record profits. In a fair and free market, programming is accessible and valued.” To summarize, it’s a group of mostly broadcasters arguing in favor of higher retransmission consent fees.

So TVFreedom, in collaboration with Antennas Direct and LG Electronics, is promoting the first stop in its Broadcast TV Liberation Tour by giving away 1000 very nice OTA antennas (and one 42-inch TV) this Sunday at a mall in Washington DC. Its flier (PDF) opens with “Hey D.C.! Want Your TV for Free?”

Feeling any cognitive dissonance yet? TVFreedom wants cable and satellite TV companies to pay higher retransmission fees, which get passed (sometimes as a line item) directly to subscribing viewers. But TVFreedom is also promoting the accurate counterpoint that viewers don’t need to pay any retransmission fees if they just use a simple OTA antenna.

Personally, this is more than an abstract question. Way back in 2004 when Dish Network had an impasse with Viacom, I made one of my best investments – a good rooftop antenna. That way, I could still watch CBS (then owned by Viacom) while waiting for Dish to capitulate. Today that cycle has returned, and CBS has threatened to pull its owned and operated stations from Dish. With my rooftop antenna, I’d hardly notice any difference.

The free OTA option should be a drag on retrans fee escalation. As the percentage of cord-cutters grows, broadcasters will receive retrans money from fewer viewers. To maximize total retrans revenue, broadcasters ought to be promoting pay-TV services instead of showing ways to bypass them. Or maybe this all relates back to that public service requirement that comes with the free use of large chunks of our airwaves. But then, why hold your programming hostage for more money? It all just makes my head hurt.