I am a subscriber of Dish Network. I’ve been reasonably happy with them but recently tuned to channel 4 to be met with a message saying that because Fisher Broadcasting and Dish Network were unable to arrive at an agreement regarding retransmission fees, they no longer had the right to carry KOMO’s signal.
As a customer of Dish Network I’m upset with them but I’m more upset with KOMO and Fisher broadcasting because I feel their position is unreasonable, unethical, and just plain greedy.
Here is the issue as I see it. Years ago, Sony was sued over their product, the BetaMax VCR, which allowed customers to record television broadcasts. Sony prevailed on the grounds that once something is placed in the public domain, it remains in the public domain and is no longer subject to copyright law. Public broadcasting of a program constituted placing it in the public domain. This became known as the BetaMax decision.
In the years since, there have been some changes to copyright laws that have created some exceptions. That’s an understatement really, copyright laws and patent laws have totally run amuck, but I also think there is a moral issue here.
If you go to Fisher’s website (if you click on the title I’ve provided a link), you’ll find that they compare various paid channels that Dish Network pays for. This comparison is unfair because these channels have a different revenue model.
Commercial broadcasters sell advertising space in their program content to pay the costs of obtaining and broadcasting their programs. The customer doesn’t pay a monetary fee to watch the program, but suffers through the advertisements in exchange for receiving the program free.
Pay television by contrast provides programs without interruption of commercials in exchange for receiving a fee, directly or indirectly, from the viewer to provide the revenue that pays for the production and distribution of the programming.
Fisher is comparing one revenue model, commercial television, with another revenue model, pay television, and I don’t feel that it is a fair comparison. Fisher wants to collect revenue from both ends, they want to charge advertisers for airtime and they want to turn around and charge us, the viewers, for the program material in spite of the fact that we’re also forced to sit through the commercials for which they’ve received payment. I don’t find this to be a reasonable proposition.
KOMO operates an expensive transmitter broadcasting hundreds of thousands of watts from high gain antennas placed on a huge tower on Queen Anne hill in Seattle in order to reach viewers in much of Western Washington state. They spend the big bucks on the equipment, electricity to run it, personell to maintain it, in order to reach an audience that is valuable to advertisers and by extension to KOMO-TV who the advertrisers pay.
Now when Dish TV retransmits their signal, they increase the size of KOMOs’ audience and by extension the value of their airtime to advertisers. They provide this added value to KOMO at no cost to KOMO. If anything KOMO should be paying them! It’s like getting a free transmitter power increase or a higher tower. They are reaching more customers with a cleaner signal that more people will be willing to watch, at no cost.
But that isn’t enough, in spite of the fact that Fisher is receiving additional value from advertisers as the result of Dish Network carrying their signals, they expect Dish Network to pay them for the priviledge of helping them make more money.
As a customer who could go out and buy a new antenna, I fail to see the logic in Fisher Communications position. Sure they can argue that there is a cost of acquisition of programming (in some cases, much is provided free by the network) and a cost associated with thier operation, but they encounter those costs whether Dish Network retransmits their signal or not. Further, Dish Network also has huge costs of operation which are increased by carrying more signals. By carrying KOMOs’ programming, Dish Network increases the advertising revenue potential of KOMO-TV and does not increase their costs.
So I just can’t see Fisher Broadcastings’ logic at all. I can’t understand why they should expect people to pay them for the priviledge of increasing their audience and revenue.
One last point of irritation, both sides make the position that the other sides’ position is unreasonable (and on this note I agree with Dish and disagree with Fisher), but neither side is willing to provide specifics. Dish says that Fisher is demanding an 82% increase, Fisher publishes Dish’s letter in which this figure is mentioned without disputing it, but neither side is willing to say 82% of what? 82% of a dollar isn’t worth a squabble, 82% of ten million dollars is. What are we talking about here? If Fisher feels what they are doing is ethical, and if Dish feels what they are doing is ethical, why are both sides demanding confidentiality?