This is a copy of a letter I sent to KNOE/Hoak Media, Inc. today:
Dear KNOE/Hoak Media:
I have been following the information about the negotiations with Suddenlink cable, both the version provided by KNOE and the version provided by Suddenlink on their blog. It is my understanding that Hoak Media is asking for an increase in retransmission fees of over 200%. This is exorbitant and unreasonable. Furthermore, KNOE is posting misleading statements that Suddenlink will “pull” KNOE and KAQY from its service. Suddenlink has asked that Hoak Media keep these stations on under the current terms until a deal can be reached. That does not sound like a threat to pull the stations. If these stations are removed from Suddenlink, Hoak media will be the one to do it.
In the statement John Dennison was given to read last night on KNOE’s 10 o’clock news, it was mentioned that Suddenlink currently pays more for stations such as Disney and TNT than it does for KNOE, KAQY, and the CW 15. There is a good reason for this: those are cable channels and KNOE is an over-the-air broadcast station. That is an apples-to-oranges comparison.
I quote from an article in “The Hill” by Philip Napoli from the 22nd of this month:
In the wake of these ongoing disputes, the FCC is reviewing its retransmission consent regulations, which were mandated by the 1992 Cable Act. Broadcasters argue that the fees are integral for maintaining local programming on the air. In fact, that was the whole basis for the legislation in the first place – broadcasters maintained that they were public trustees, serving local informational needs, and needed to maintain economic viability and wide accessibility. Retransmission consent fees would provide these broadcasters the financial capacity and stability to continue providing the public with critical local programming.Nearly two decades later, the retransmission consent regulations are still in place, and the payments that they generate are now a massive source of revenue for broadcasters. In 2006, broadcasters pocketed $216 million in retransmission fees. This year, that number skyrocketed to an estimated $1.3 billion. Given this substantial increase, one would assume that local programming would have benefited. The contrary appears to be true.
In multiple studies, researchers have found that local news and programming has markedly dwindled over the past decades. A study by the FCC this year found that television stations provide on average less than 1.5 hours of local public affairs programming per week. Commercial stations that provide absolutely no local news programming are increasingly prevalent, as are stations that merely replay the local news broadcasts of other stations in their market. Additionally, financial and personnel resources devoted to local news and public affairs have dropped significantly in recent years. No matter how it’s measured, broadcaster commitment to localism through local news and information programming hasn’t kept up with skyrocketing retransmission payments.
“Must-carry” was a much more equitable scenario. Over-the-air, local stations serve the public interest. They are “free to air.” They earn their revenue from selling local advertising. Cable systems carry those channels for the benefit of those who live outside the range of antenna reception (such as the people of Ruston). The claim made on KNOE last night that Hoak’s stations maintain some incredible “local commitment” is specious: KAQY and the CW have NO local content whatsoever, and KNOE routinely runs 5-minute commercials (in the guise of a “spotlight on local business”) in the slot that is supposed to be for local news and weather during the CBS Morning News. Furthermore, I have contacted KNOE many times about upcoming events here in the Ruston area and have received no response whatsoever. Hoak cannot make a claim of “local involvement” in the context of discussions with Suddenlink. Without Suddenlink, Ruston residents would not be able to receive KNOE at all, and KNOE has not taken any interest in the Ruston community, besides taking money from Ruston businesses who advertise on KNOE.
As of this week, we are a Nielson home. If Hoak Media insists on this more than 200% increase in retransmission fees and subsequently pulls its programming from Suddenlink Cable in Ruston, its ratings for KNOE, KAQY, and the CW 15 will be almost zero, as it is impossible for us to receive these channels over the air, even with a three-story tall antenna. We already receive KSLA (CBS) and KTBS (ABC) from Shreveport via Suddenlink, and we will simply start watching them for CBS and ABC programming, and record this fact in our ratings book. Since we are over the age of 15, there is nothing on the CW that appeals to us, so we will not miss that station in the least.
Please stop spreading misinformation via your local media outlet and engage in good-faith negotiations with Suddenlink Communications.
John Allen Bankson