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Consumer Reports to testify at Congressional hearing on the state of the video marketplace

Spectrum-Disney cable blackout leads over 30,000 consumers across U.S to sign Consumer Reports petition demanding refunds for customers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports, will testify on Wednesday, September 13, at a congressional hearing titled “Lights, Camera, Subscriptions: Assessing the State of the Video Marketplace.” The hearing is being held by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

“Over the past decade, viewing habits of consumers have changed dramatically, especially those with smartphones and access to an affordable, fast, and reliable broadband internet connection,” said Schwantes. “While consumers now have greater choice in the marketplace, ongoing  problems exist that Congress must address.”

Schwantes added, “Around 15 million consumers were recently left in the dark when ABC, ESPN, and other channels owned by Disney were blacked out on Spectrum’s cable system because of failed negotiations between the two companies. Blackouts like this happen too often, and consumers are always the ones left footing the bill, paying for channels that they don’t get, and shelling out even more when the new deal is more expensive than the last.”

“Congress must address and revise the laws that let blackouts happen. We need to fix the fragmented nature of these negotiations and address the broader challenges within the video marketplace. Consumers pay a lot of money for cable and satellite, and the customers are being left at the mercy of these industries and the entertainment conglomerates when it comes to TV programming blackouts. We have to raise the bar for holding these giant companies accountable, and making sure consumers get a fair deal.”

CR is calling on Congress to begin establishing a consensus of priorities that we collectively value in a video marketplace. Though not exhaustive, CR would suggest those priorities should include the following: 

  • low-cost, stand-alone options for local broadcast networks akin to a “basic service tier” required by the 1992 Cable Act to ensure low-income households have access to broadcast programming and local news and public television; 
  • price transparency in the form of all-in pricing or a ban on certain company-imposed fees for video service plans; 
  • availability of local broadcast networks and continuity of service free of blackouts; 
  • transparent and predictable procedures to ensure carriage deals (ideally via privately-negotiated copyright licensing agreements) that fairly compensate content holders; 
  • privacy protections afforded consumers by the Cable TV Privacy Act; 
  • continued educational and public access programming; and a
  • reexamination of media ownership rules and media diversity goals important to sustain a variety of viewpoints in a modern democracy.

Over Labor Day weekend, Spectrum cable blacked out Disney channels — including ESPN and ABC — to 15 million Americans on the night of College Football’s premier game and during the popular US Open tennis tournament. CR circulated a petition calling on Spectrum to automatically refund all customers for their loss, and for the FCC to hold these giant corporations accountable for these stunts. Within days, more than 30,000 consumers signed our petition, and NY Governor Kathy Hochul echoed our call for a refund. 

Jonathan Schwantes’ full testimony is available here. The hearing is scheduled for 2:00 pm et on Wednesday, September 13.  For more information, including how to view the hearing online, please visit the following link.