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Local TV stations form new coalition to urge streaming reform

Local broadcast stations from across the country have joined forces to create an advocacy group that will press the Federal Communications Commission and lawmakers over what it calls the need to modernize regulations to enable them to stream their content.

“The Coalition for Local News,” which is backed ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS television affiliate associations and represents more than 600 local TV stations across the country, is arguing that access to streaming will “protect the future of local news in America.”

“As the most trusted source of news for Americans, local news broadcasts provide timely coverage of important issues and events, emergency weather service, and access to lifesaving information,” the group said in a statement. “The future of local broadcast news is threatened by regulations that need to be modernized and government inaction in exercising existing authority to protect the ability of local news outlets to compete. “

Most notably, the organization pointed to what it calls the “streaming loophole” in current FCC rules, which requires cable and satellite providers, but streaming services like Hulu+LiveTV, YouTubeTV and Paramount+ are not required to negotiate with local broadcasters for carriage of their stations. The rule was put in place in 1992, well before streaming began to take over much of home entertainment.

Today, local stations that are affiliated with the national broadcast networks to carry the their programming can also see said networks take control their distribution rights and negotiate with streaming services in their stead. The Wall Street Journal reported that this allows the networks to pocket fees for the locals’ content, and “leaves stations with much less money than if they had cut their own deals.”

“Congress and the FCC have always modernized federal rules in other contexts to keep them in line with advancements in communications technologies and changes in the marketplace. All we ask is that we modernize these regulations to reflect the current marketplace so local broadcasters are able to compete and thrive on a level playing field,” said Michael O’Brien, a senior vice president at The E.W. Scripps Company, which owns 61 stations in 41 markets.

In May, NBCUniversal cut a deal with Amazon that gives U.S.-based customers access to local breaking news coverage and original content from NBCU’s local stations. The new FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV) channels will present all-day coverage from NBC and Telemundo stations from around the country.

Stations are given a “choice” to accept the networks’ terms or risk losing network programming, which could put them out of business, the Journal reported.

“Today, streaming services represent about one-third of the pay-TV market and are growing quickly,” the organization said. “Local television stations have lost control of their retransmission consent rights under current rules that cut them out of the negotiating process with streaming services.”

Without this ability to negotiate, local stations can’t get the money needed to keep up their investments in local news reporting, the group said. It noted that last week, the FCC said it will consider updating a separate set of program carriage rules, which it called “an acknowledgment of the need to modernize video regulations in light of a changing marketplace.”

“Local broadcast stations can thrive in a fair marketplace. We have demonstrated as much over the past 30 years of successful competition in the cable and satellite era. But no business can succeed when the rules don’t apply fairly and reflect today’s reality,” said Mike Meara, former chair of the ABC television Affiliates Association and member of the organization, in a statement. “The market has evolved dramatically and it’s time for lawmakers and regulators to act to protect local broadcast news.” yahoo! entertainment

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