US politicians intercede to prevent Super Bowl blackout

Michelle Clancy ©RapidTVNews | 27-01-2012

Local US TV affiliate owner Sunbeam and satellite giant DirecTV have at last ended a retransmission spat threatening a potential blackout of the Super Bowl in the Boston area.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), as well as 10 House Democrats, were at the vanguard of a drive to address the clash between DirecTV and Sunbeam, which owns the Super Bowl-carrying NBC affiliate in Beantown.
With the big game on the line for Boston viewers, and no sign of action between the two parties, lawmakers decided to get involved in the name of consumer protection. After all, Boston's home team, the New England Patriots, are headed into an emotionally charged rematch of 2008's Super Bowl against the New York Giants, where they lost.
"If people in Boston miss the Super Bowl this year because of this dispute, I can assure you that it will lead more and more people to throw up their hands and say, 'a pox upon both of their houses.' This is an outcome we can and should avoid," Kerry wrote in a letter this week to Sunbeam president Edmund Ansin and DirecTV CEO Michael White.
"I cannot force you to reach a resolution, but I can and will strongly urge you not to use the Super Bowl as leverage toward resolution and I will continue to work to urge the FCC to ensure that access to major live events for hundreds of thousands or millions of people not become a recurring tool for leverage in these negotiations," he added.
DirecTV had said it was available "around the clock" for negotiations with Sunbeam and late into the night of 26 January, released a statement confirming that it had reached agreement with Sunbeam to restore TV stations WHDH and WLVI in Boston and Miami respectively.
The statement said: “We are pleased to have reached an agreement to end the Sunbeam blackout, and regret that any of our customers were forced into the middle of a business dispute where they should never have been in the first place. We believe, like many, the public interest is best served by allowing customers to keep their local broadcast stations as we negotiate future agreements, rather than being denied access by broadcast stations and used as leverage in what should be a private business matter.”
US regulator the FCC is reconsidering the rules governing retransmission negotiations, and many lawmakers, Kerry among them, hope to find a way to take away the leverage that comes with something like a championship ball game. While pay-TV operators have "must-carry" requirements to air national network programming via local affiliate feeds, the content licencing fees they pay to those affiliates in order to do so are not regulated.