The reasons are a little sad. A baseball team leverages its value on a TV network that’s too expensive for most cable systems. A Hall-of-Fame announcer approaches retirement. A huge metropolis has no good way to watch the final games of a local celebrity.

But I’m really happy with the results. For the first time since 2001, Los Angeles TV station KTLA will broadcast Dodgers games, six from their final month of the season, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times. The first will be September 23, “Vin Scully Appreciation Day” at Dodger Stadium.

As I’ve often written, baseball teams are losing future fans by blacking out entire seasons from over-the-air TV. Some folks can’t or don’t want to pay for TV, and the number of cord-cutters seems to be growing. Putting a few games on OTA is a good first step. Now let’s see if they can find a half-dozen games to broadcast free every month in 2017.

And this is one extra perk for us few Dish subscribers who are grandfathered in to the KTLA and the other four FCC-defined Superstations. Baseball was once a big reason to watch them (and still is for WPIX), so it’s nice to see it return, even for just a month.

CC BY by b_schmidt

An auction sign that’s not so depressing. Photo by b_schmidt

I haven’t been writing about this much because, frankly, I find it too depressing. The federal government is auctioning chunks of the spectrum that broadcast TV is using to serve the public today so that wireless services can use them for their subscribers tomorrow. Some of that money goes to the broadcasters who have been using it essentially free for all these years. The rest goes to pay down the national debt, a one-time payment so Congress will buy more time to not balance the budget. Viewers will probably have fewer free channels to watch, and wireless subscribers will keep on paying for wireless. If you want more details, there’s a pretty good explainer here.

The process is complicated. Basically the FCC will try to auction a very large band of TV spectrum, and if that fails, it will try again with a slightly smaller band. As TV Technology reports, that first round failed, and the FCC is reloading for Round Two.

To say that the first round failed is an understatement. The target was $88 billion, but bidders offered less than $23 billion. The second round will include less spectrum for a local target, yet to be determined. For more information, including a great chart to show the round-by-round possibilities, go check out that TV Technology article.

Looking at that grid of possibilities, it looks like each new round of the auction saves one or two UHF TV slots. I sure hope that the auction continues for a very long time so we can keep as much free TV as we can.

Football game on American Sports NetworkI just got back from a few weeks in Columbus, Ohio on family business. While I was there, I had a chance to sample an over-the-air TV network I’d heard about, so I could correct an error I made earlier.

Two years ago, the Sinclair Broadcast Group announced the launch of the American Sports Network. At the time, I wrote that the ASN looked less like a 24/7 channel and “more like Raycom Sports, syndicating college games to mostly independent stations.” That might have been correct then, but in January 2016, ASN grew to become a 24/7 channel, now available OTA in over 40 markets. Including Columbus. Although ASN launched on Sinclair-controlled stations, now most ASN affiliates are non-Sinclair stations, most of which broadcast it on a digital subchannel.

ASN has assembled football, basketball, and hockey leagues from over a dozen college conferences. It’s had a couple of years to stockpile those games and now rebroadcasts some of them on weekday afternoons and other slow times. ASN also airs auto racing, amateur baseball, professional softball, and the usual half-hour roundup talk shows.

For me, ASN is the best OTA sports network I’ve ever seen. Although I sort of miss the old Universal Sports Network, which left OTA in 2012 and died last November, USN was always more likely to show skiing or cycling than a team sport. ASN feels more, well, American.

This post might be the nicest thing I ever say about Sinclair, which just last week was fined over $9 million by the FCC for not negotiating in good faith on retransmission consent fees. If ASN can make its way to my market, it’s so good that I’ll watch despite knowing who makes it possible.

Navy color guard before a Dayton Dragons baseball game

Sailors from the USS Constitution’s Color Guard parade the colors before a Dayton Dragons game. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joshua Hammond)

Last Saturday evening, I was in Dayton, Ohio, sitting at a barbecue joint which I will honor by not mentioning its name. (If it had a motto, based on the waiter’s remarks, it would be, “Sorry, we’re changing the menu.”) For a reason unrelated to the alleged food, I was glad I came.

As I examined my appetizer plate of Tender Vittles, someone changed a TV screen from random hockey highlights to a baseball game. Featuring the local team, the Dayton Dragons. Broadcast on local over-the-air TV. Cool!

It turns out that Dayton is one of seven* minor-league baseball teams that broadcast some of their games on free OTA TV. As I have mentioned before, there are practically no local major-league baseball games on broadcast TV outside of New York City and Chicago, so this is a nice alternative.

With cord-cutting accelerating, Dayton and the other minor-league OTA broadcasters are smart in at least a couple of ways. They’re reaching the 25% of households that don’t subscribe to pay TV. Especially for those viewers, they provide an attractive, typically unique live-sports option. Everyone who watches is treated to what’s effectively an infomercial for watching games in person. And the teams are nurturing a new generation of baseball fans.

There are also at least another half dozen minor league teams that broadcast over local cable, but that can’t be as beneficial. Cable subscribers can switch over to major league baseball games or plenty of other sports options, so these minor league teams are less likely to pull in fresh fans. Ditto for, an economical source for over 5000 (!) games a year, since its subscribers must already be minor-league baseball fans.

So here’s a note of thanks to Dayton, despite the cuisine. More major-league teams should be taking lessons from the Dragons.

* I checked every minor-league team’s web site and found 2016 OTA TV information for Dayton, Durham NC, Indianapolis, Lehigh Valley PA, South Bend IN, Winston-Salem NC, and (Appleton) Wisconsin. If I missed one you know about, please leave a comment.

One-sided arm wrestling

© olly18 /

I had hoped that the retransmission fee fight between Dish Network and Tribune Broadcasting would be over quickly, but if anything, it’s grown worse. Dish offered baseball-style binding arbitration. Tribune countered with ads blaming Dish. Then Dish sued over the ads. I recognize that these steps are all about adding bargaining chips toward a final settlement, but it’s all so unnecessary.

The primary cause of the problem is that over-the-air TV broadcasters get to demand negotiate retransmission fees from pay-TV providers. (That’s if they’re popular. If a station isn’t popular, it can instead demand that pay-TV providers must carry that station no matter how few viewers want it.) These stations, granted the license to use the public airwaves to serve their communities, can withhold their programming from cable and satellite unless those viewers pay up.

TV stations have all the leverage. If one pay-TV company balks, the station can urge viewers to switch to another, and that’s exactly what Tribune has done. A media conglomerate that controls both cable networks and OTA stations can use retransmission fee negotiations to force the providers to carry the networks or raise those prices too. That’s also what Tribune is doing.

It’s no wonder that stations reject calls for arbitration or any other changes to the current system. If you’ve got the only oasis for 100 miles, you won’t be interested in negotiating the price of water. No wonder that, according to SNL Kagan, total retransmission fees have risen from $200 million 10 years ago to over $7.7 billion this year and are projected to reach $11.6 billion by 2022.

In my ideal world, part of TV broadcasters’ social contract would include allowing anyone to retransmit any OTA station for free. That’s not going to happen. Heck, even the United Kingdom is considering allowing such fees. But I’ve got a solution that’s almost as good.

Consider music. When someone wants to play Yesterday, they don’t need to negotiate with Paul McCartney. There are rights organizations that have negotiated fair-market royalty rates with representatives of the parties that use music.

Now apply that to OTA TV. Suppose that the major networks and other TV ownership groups sat down with the cable and satellite TV companies. They could negotiate a formula that provides fair-market retransmission fees for each station. I imagine that the formula would be based on the average number of viewers, with a certain no-fee threshold for must-carry stations. If average ratings go up over a year (or quarterly), that station earns a higher fee from the pay-TV service. Every few years, the parties sit down and hash out any changes. Everyone benefits by saving all the time and money currently spent negotiating each station group’s demands with each pay-TV service. No OTA station ever gets blacked out on any provider, yet everyone gets a fair return.

This too will never happen without government intervention. Even with assurances of a fair return on OTA fees, conglomerates would lose the leverage to force better terms for their cable channels. But this plan might just be balanced enough to work if viewer groups and pay-TV lobbyists ever get together to lean on Washington. At the very least, it’s a pleasant dream.