Nobody asked me, but here's my opinion on the too-often carriage contract disagreements between local TV stations and services that distribute TV over cable or satellite (right now KOLD-13's parent company is in a contract dispute with DirecTV resulting in customers being unable to watch KOLD's programming). This opinion doesn't apply to cable-only channels such as Discovery, Fox News, etc.
Local stations are licensed by the federal government and are available over the air for free. In some areas, because of terrain, mountains, distance, etc, a local station might not be available over the air to your location. Cable TV originally started as a way to get local channels to fringe areas. Over time, other cable TV channels came along such as Discovery, Food Network, CNN, etc).
Local TV stations make their money by selling advertising. In the last few years, however, they've been able to charge distributers such as Comcast, DirecTV and others for the right to carry their programming. This often amounts to very large amounts of revenue to the TV station, and an incentive to create these carriage disputes, often at the expense of service to their local area.
I'm all for content creators such as local TV stations being compensated for their programming. However, these programs are already available in their license area for free over the air. Because they are licensed to serve their communities, and potentially because it could be a matter of public safety (weather, local emergencies, etc), customers who are eligible to receive a local station's programming because they live in that area should be able to get the programming for free, regardless of if it is over the air, via cable, or satellite.
When these disputes happen, the two companies often point fingers at each other - blaming the other for the unfair treatment or alleged increased costs of carrying the programming. They place their customers in the middle, with each one asking their customers to call the other company and lodge their complaints.
It's my opinion that distributers should be REQUIRED to carry all local TV stations in a service area that they want to do business in. Local TV stations should be PROHIBITED from gouging distributers like cable and satellite companies for retransmitting their programming. Both distributors and local TV stations should be PROHIBITED from placing their customers in the middle.
In general I'm not a fan of federal regulation, but because neither side can be trusted to play well with the other (proven time and time again by Raycom vs. DirecTV, Time Warner Cable vs. Fox, and others), in the event that broadcasters and distributers can't come to an agreement, which results in the TV station pulling their programming from the distributer, the distributer should be allowed to substitute programming from an adjacent market. In the current example of KOLD-13 vs. DirecTV, DirecTV would be allowed to substitute programming from the local CBS station in Phoenix. This would continue to provide at least semi-local service to the community in lieu of the disputed station.
Broadcast radio and TV are, in many cases, essential to public safety. They are licensed to their service areas with the expectation of local public service. They should be available without interruption to customers who desire them.
I understand that it is costly to run a TV station. TV stations must be careful not to abuse this arrangement, or else they risk wind up facing government regulation in this area. Pulling their signal from the distributor is a disservice to their viewers and means they are reneging on their promise of service to their community - which should be grounds for license revocation. THAT should be the negotiating power on behalf of the citizens on the community the TV station serves.
If local TV stations want to become pay-TV stations, then they should be free to do so, if they agree to give up their broadcast license. It would then be assigned to someone who agrees to serve the community.
Putting the viewer in the middle of this dispute serves nobody.
Lastly, this dispute doesn't affect me because although I'm a DirecTV customer, I have east and west ABC, CBS and NBC and FOX, and am grandfathered in. So I'll be watching the NFL on either WCBS-New York or KCBS-Los Angeles tomorrow. Who wants to come over??