Media Groups Spar over COVID-19 Aid

The American Television Alliance (ATVA), which represents “an unprecedented coalition of consumer groups, cable, satellite, telephone companies, and independent programmers,” has called on Congress to attach conditions to any COVID-19 relief funds to broadcasters.

ATVA counts cable and satellite giants such as AT&T, Verizon, Charter, and Dish among its members. Its advocacy centers around countering threats made by broadcasters to black out content. These threats usually result from disputes over retransmission consent fees, a longstanding system that requires cable companies to pay fees or other compensation to local broadcasters to show their content.

Groups representing the news media, including the News Media Alliance and the National Association of Broadcasters, recently proposed that local media and broadcasters, “regardless of ownership,” should be eligible to receive funds under the Paycheck Protection Program, a program established under the Small Business Administration to provide relief to businesses with under 500 employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ATVA opposed the changes, arguing that broadcast stations are largely owned by large conglomerates like Hearst and Sinclair. The group did concede that if Congress adopts the media proposal, it should condition funds on a requirement that the broadcasters maintain the availability of their programming, barring the possibility of blackouts.

The National Association of Broadcasters referred to ATVA’s opposition as “a cynical effort to deny local media badly-needed access to SBA loans during the coronavirus crisis” and cited to a nationwide drop in advertising spending, a key source of revenue for broadcasters, as an indication that relief is a necessity.