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Economics of Broadcast TV Retransmission Revenue 2020

Amid the COVID-19-induced recession fueling an ongoing trend in households dropping traditional multichannel video subscription in favor of cheaper virtual alternatives, we have revised down our projections covering U.S. TV station owners' retrans fees from traditional and virtual multichannel service providers. Our projections now show retrans fees are expected to reach $12.17 billion in 2020, up just 2% from $11.89 billion in 2019.

The TV station revenue and distribution model continues to evolve as consumer tastes shift from big bundles offered by legacy multichannel operators to skinnier virtual multichannel and over-the-top platforms. While TV station owners have successfully secured higher retrans fees in each renewal period, the economics have changed with local station virtual sub distribution and carriage rates being set by the networks with the stations receiving less on a net basis than on the legacy side of the multichannel video universe.

However, expectations are net retrans margins will only compress slightly over the five-year projection period as affiliate stations have become more important to the networks in terms of local programming and live sports distribution across the country.

After an action-packed 2019 with a flurry of year-end retransmission renewals, the retrans landscape cooled down due to circumstances surrounding COVID-19 lockdowns with some TV station owners and multichannel service providers opting to suspend their retrans feuds. However, according to our latest retrans database update, several large scale renewals have been struck during the past few months, including Comcast Corp.'s carriage renewals with Fox Corp. and Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.

Signal disruptions also spiked simultaneously with the two latest disputes involving DISH Network Corp. — one with E.W. Scripps Co. and the other with some stations owned by Apollo Global Management Inc. 

TV station owners in 2019 and year-to-date 2020 continued to improve visibility in terms of future payments to programming providers with some, including Nexstar Media Group Inc., Gray Television Inc., TEGNA Inc. and Sinclair announcing blanket affiliate deals to bring uniformity to their affiliate contract tenures. We expect future negotiations to undergo the renewal process without much fanfare compared to relatively contentious retrans agreement negotiations.

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