Blackout (broadcasting)

Blackout (broadcasting)

In broadcasting, a blackout is when certain programming, usually sports, cannot be televised in a certain media market.

The purpose is theoretically to generate more money by obligating certain actions from fans, either by making them buy tickets or watch other games on TV. While financially a logical procedure on the part of those providing the programming, blackouts are frequently unpopular with the affected audience.

Canadian federal elections results are a prominent exception of non-sports-related programming that is subject to blackout. The reason for this is because of the numerous time zones, and since polls close at different times in the country, results from one region may influence voting in the next.

A similar term, known as preemption (or "pre-emption"), often refers to stations blacking out a program for other than regulatory or governmental reasons, such as when a local station preempts a network program for local news (an example of a regular preemption) or a special program (an example of a one-time preemption).

Canada

Federal Elections

Perhaps the most notable non-sports-related blackout in television is the blackout of Canadian federal election coverage. Because there are six time zones in Canada, polls close in different parts of the country at different times. Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act outlaws publishing election results from other ridings in constituencies where polls were still open, ostensibly to prevent the results from eastern ridings from influencing voters in the West.

However, in the federal election in 2000, one Paul Charles Bryan published results from Atlantic Canada on the Internet despite being told not to by the authorities. Bryan was charged before the Provincial Court of British Columbia, but fought the charges as unconstitutional under section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects freedom of expression and freedom of association. Bryan's victory before the British Columbia Supreme Court meant that voters in British Columbia and the rest of Canada legally learned of election results in other ridings during the federal election in 2004. [cite news
last =
first =
coauthors =
title = Supreme Court upholds blackout on early election night results
work = CBC.ca
pages =
language =
publisher = Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
date = 2007-03-15
url = http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2007/03/15/election-law.html
accessdate = 2007-06-26
] However, Bryan lost his case before the British Columbia Court of Appeal. He further appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, but in a ruling made on March 15, 2007 the Court ruled that Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act is constitutional and justified under section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Stephen Harper, who later became prime minister, labelled Elections Canada "jackasses" and tried to raise money for Bryan. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation also supported Bryan, hoping to "make election night a bigger event that it already is."

Before the 2000 election, Elections Canada moved to reduce the effects of the blackout and the influence of unauthorized knowledge of election results in Western ridings by altering the times that polls close so that polls no longer close at the same local time throughout the country. Polls in Atlantic Canada now close at 9 p.m. Atlantic (9:30 in Newfoundland). Polls from Alberta to Quebec close an hour later (9 p.m. Eastern, 8 p.m. Central and 7 p.m. Mountain) and finally, polls in B.C. close an hour after that (7 p.m. Pacific). Historically, the results of the election are often not decisively known until more than an hour after polls close in Ontario and Quebec, but are usually known within two hours of these polls closing.

Provincial elections are not subject to blackout restrictions - in those provinces that have two time zones the vast majority of the population lives in one time zone or the other. Election laws in these provinces stipulate that all polls are to close at the same time - this time invariably being 8:00 p.m. (or 9:00 p.m. in Ontario beginning with the 2007 provincial election) in the time zone of the majority.

CFL

All Canadian Football League games on TSN are subject to local blackouts. For example, Edmonton Eskimos home games are not broadcast in Edmonton or the immediate surrounding area to ensure that fans buy tickets. In the case of Saskatchewan Roughriders home games the blackout zone covers the entire province of Saskatchewan, largely because that team relies more than the others on province-wide support.

The home team has the option of lifting a blackout for games that sell out. Unlike in the NFL however, the home team is not obligated to lift a blackout in such cases.

NHL

Unlike the policies governing professional football broadcasts, the National Hockey League has no blackout policy that is dependent on ticket sales, therefore nationally televised games on Hockey Night in Canada are never blacked out in any part of the country. However, no other broadcasters are allowed to air games on Saturday nights.

The cable network TSN holds the national rights to selected games through the year as well as regional rights to Toronto Maple Leafs games. TSN splits its network during Leafs games so that only Ontario viewers see the game, viewers in other markets see alternate programming. On Wednesdays TSN holds a similar monopoly to the CBC on Saturdays. Rogers Sportsnet holds the regional rights to the other Canadian teams. Like TSN, Rogers splits their network for those games.

In the French language RDS broadcasts all of its Montreal Canadiens games across the full network.

Court cases

By Canadian law, in some cases, a publication ban may be imposed on all parties involved in the case. This includes the media, which are forbidden to discuss sensitive details about the case. Some notable cases would make the news on American stations and networks, especially stations close to the border. While the American media is free to report on the details to their own audience, the gag order in Canada must remain in effect, which means blacking out the signals of the American stations during their newscasts. However, this has led to some unpleasant effects -- for example, in the wake of a Canadian publication ban of the murder trial of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka in 1995, CANCOM was forced to black out WDIV-TV's newscasts from Detroit on their end with a disclaimer stating "THIS CHANNEL BLACKED OUT DURING THIS TIME DUE TO BROADCAST/PUBLISHING LAW DURING THE BERNARDO/HOMOLKA TRIAL". Though this did its intended purpose in Canada, it angered cable viewers not only in the Detroit market but other Michigan cities as well (which received the signal from CANCOM), as well as other areas of the US and the Caribbean that receive the CANCOM signal. After one week, WDIV management and CANCOM hammered out a deal in which the blackouts would be handled by Canadian cable systems in a manner similar to simsubbing.

United States

MLB/NHL blackout policies

Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League have very similar blackout rules. Unlike the National Football League, the blackout of games have nothing to do with attendance. Games are blacked out based on two criteria.

# Local broadcast and cable stations which contract with a team to show their games in the local market have priority to televise those games over national broadcasters (assuming that the national broadcaster does not have exclusive rights to the game, as discussed below). If ESPN telecasts a game, and the game was scheduled to be telecast by the local rights holder, the game will be blacked out on ESPN in that market (usually replaced by ESPNEWS). Similar blackouts occur on other networks which telecast nationally, such as WGN, although this would be considered a local broadcast in Chicago respectively since the network only cover its local team (the game would be blacked out in the opponent's market only). (The same restriction was in place when TBS televised the Atlanta Braves, which was a local broadcast in Atlanta.)

Also, ESPN's blackout zone is larger than that of the superstations. [ [http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/global/contentPage.jsp?assetId=1100045 MLB Extra Innings Blackout Information] ]
# The Fox network has exclusive nationwide rights for MLB games on Saturdays between 3:55 PM ET and 7:00 ET and ESPN has the same rights for games on Sunday after 8:00 PM ET. Games beginning in these periods of exclusivity can only be telecast by the network holding the exclusive national rights. Games that run long, such as extra inning games that run past 7 PM ET on Sundays, are not cut off. Also, ESPN sometimes waives this for the Texas Rangers and Florida Marlins. These two teams play in open-air stadiums in extremely hot climates, making night games a necessity in the summer months. For FOX, this generally applies to one time-slot per market, since its coverage is not usually a doubleheader. Thus, local television coverage is allowed during the other time-slot, but the game will not air on "MLB Extra Innings". Starting with the new MLB TV contract in 2007, TBS will telecast a Sunday afternoon game-of-the-week, but no nationwide exclusivity is granted to the network. The same contract will grant Fox more flexible start times for broadcasts and may expand the window of exclusivity. [cite web
last = Pasaan
first = Jeff
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Selig's Promise
work = Yahoo.com
publisher = Yahoo! Sports
date = 2006-07-11
url = http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=jp-blackouts071106&prov=yhoo&type=lgns
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2006-09-11
] [cite news
last = Hiestand
first = Michael
coauthors =
title = TBS drops Braves games, joins Fox in rich TV deal
work = USAToday.com
pages =
language =
publisher = USA Today
date = 2006-07-11
url = http://www.usatoday.com/sports/columnist/hiestand-tv/2006-07-11-hiestand-mlb_x.htm?csp=34
accessdate = 2006-09-11
]

In the NHL, the policy has changed in recent years. Now, most national cable games are shown throughout the country. Occasionally, the league will grant its cable partner an exclusive window and not schedule any other games involving U.S. teams at that time. For NBC's network coverage in the 2006-2007 season, only games it televised could air during its window, airing different games by region. The coverage was changed in the 2007-2008 season to a Game of the Week format.

In MLB there are no radio blackouts. However, for many years, the radio networks of the two participating ballclubs in the World Series were not allowed to air games. This changed after 1980, fans of the Philadelphia Phillies were angry that they couldn't hear their popular broadcasting team of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn call their run to the title. Since then, only the flagship stations of the two participating ballclubs can originate coverage, though their broadcasts are also available on XM Satellite Radio. XM is required to broadcast the home, away, and both English and Spanish national feeds of the World Series. All other network affiliates of the two clubs must carry the feed from MLB's national partner (currently ESPN Radio), and they may not even be able to do so if they compete with an ESPN Radio affiliate in the same market. The two flagships must broadcast ESPN Radio national commercials (though they can run live commercial reads during broadcasts and sell ads during typically extended pre/post-game shows).

Additionally, radio stations (including flagships) may not include MLB games in the live Internet streams of their station programming. Some stations will replace the game with a recorded message explaining why the game cannot be heard on their stream. Others will simply stream the station's regularly scheduled programming that is being preempted by the game.

NBA blackout policy

The NBA used to black out nationally televised games on cable TV within convert|35|mi|km of the home team's market; however, these are now restricted to games on NBA TV, and MOJO HD games on cable systems which do not carry NBA TV.

NFL blackout policy

In the NFL, any broadcaster that has a signal that hits any area within a 75-mile (120 km) radius of an NFL stadium may only broadcast a game if that game is a road game, or if the game sells-out 72 hours or more before the start time for the game. [ [http://www.nfl.com/ticket/faq NFL Sunday Ticket FAQ] ] If sold out in less than 72 hours, or is close to being sold out by the deadline, the team can sometimes request a time extension. Furthermore, broadcasters with NFL contracts are required to show their markets' road games. These requirements based on attendance mean that as a general rule, fans of teams with winning records will get to see all of their teams games on television, while fans of sub-.500 teams may only see the road games on television, unless their team routinely sells out anyway (which many do). Sometimes if a game is very close to selling out, but not quite there, a broadcaster with rights to show the nearly sold out game will buy the remaining tickets (and give them to local charities) so it can broadcast the game (usually, this would involve no more than a few hundred tickets because of cost). Other teams elect to close off sections of their stadium, but cannot sell these tickets for any game that season if they choose to do so. [cite news
last =
last = Lomeli
first = Andrew
coauthors =
title = NFL blackout blunder
work = The Stanford Daily
date = 2006-10-10
url = http://daily.stanford.edu/article/2006/10/10/nflBlackoutBlunder
accessdate = 2007-07-03
] As a result, if the home team's game is a Sunday day game both networks can air only one game each in that market. (Until 2001, this rule applied whether or not the game was blacked out, however, this was changed because some markets virtually never aired doubleheaders as a result.) Usually, but not always, when each network can show only one game each in a market, the two stations work out between themselves which will show an early game and which will show a late game. This only affects the primary market, and not markets in a convert|75|mi|km|sing=on radius, which always get a doubleheader each Sunday.

The NFL blackout is considered to be detrimental to financially struggling teams. For instance, most notably, the Los Angeles Rams were unable to sell-out their home games during their last years in that city, so a blackout further robbed the franchise of potential revenue and alienated remaining fans.

There is also another exception with regard to the Green Bay Packers, as that team has a home market that extends across two television markets, Green Bay and the larger market of Milwaukee convert|120|mi|km to the south; the team had formerly played at least two games a year in that city's County Stadium. However, blackout rules rarely factor in the area, due to the team's routine sellouts going back to 1960, and a season ticket waiting list years long.

Radio rules are similar to that of Major League Baseball. Westwood One has national exclusivity for the Conference Championship games and Super Bowl, although the local flagship stations may broadcast these games (Green Bay/Milwaukee is a unique case where a Milwaukee radio station is the Packers network flagship, but there are also AM/FM flagship stations in Green Bay).

For other games, no station within convert|75|mi|km of an NFL stadium may broadcast a game unless it has an affiliation deal with one of the local teams involved. One instance of the practice of this rule was over Hartford, Connecticut CBS affiliate WFSB trying to air a New England Patriots-New York Giants game for December 29, 2007, which would be carried only on the NFL's cable network NFL Network that at the time was available only on a sports channel package of Comcast Cable in the immediate viewing areas of the Patriots and Giants.cite web|Last=Eggerton|first=John|title=WFSB Wants Patriots-Giants Game|date=2007-12-21|url=http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6515087.html?rssid=193|work="Broadcasting & Cable"|accessdate=2007-12-21]

On December 12, 2007, "Broadcasting & Cable" reported that Senator John Kerry and Rep. Ed Markey, both of the state of Massachusetts and fans of the New England Patriots team, wrote to the NFL as well as Comcast Cable and Time Warner Cable to request that the Patriots-Giants game be aired at least on basic cable in order to reach the highest possible number of television-viewing fans, as at the time the Patriots were undefeated, and Kerry and Markey viewed the game as "potentially historic", according to John Eggerton of "B&C". [cite web|last=Eggerton|first=John|title=Kerry Wants to Huddle with NFL, Cable Operators|date=2007-12-12|url=http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6512467.html|work="Broadcasting & Cable"|accessdate=2007-12-21] Kerry clarified the next week that he did not intend to interrupt current negotiations between the cable operators and NFL. [cite web|last=Eggerton|first=John|title=Kerry Continues to Pressure NFL, Comcast, Time Warner|date=2007-12-18|url=http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6513752.html?q=Patriots|work="Broadcasting & Cable"|accessdate=2007-12-21] On December 19, 2007, representative Joe Courtney (D-CT) and other members of the Connecticut Congressional Delegation wrote to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to try to have the NFL allow wider broadcast access to the game. Consequently, on December 26, the NFL approved the game to be simulcast from NFL Network to both the CBS and NBC networks. [cite web|last=Hemingway|first=Jon|title=NFL OKs Patriots-Giants Game for Broadcast|date=2007-12-26|url=http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6515311.html?rssid=193|work=Broadcasting & Cable|accessdate-2007-12-29]

Middle East

There have been reports that the FOX-owned station in Israel has blacked out certain NFL games aired on the original American FOX network. [cite web
last = Easterbrook
first = Gregg
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The minkey is off his back, plus the full shocking statistics of the blitz
work = NFL.com
publisher = NFL
date = 2004-01-06
url = http://web.archive.org/web/20070624071722/http://www.nfl.com/nflnetwork/story/6982198
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-07-11
] [cite web
last = Easterbrook
first = Gregg
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The menace of Manning's chicken dance, and Dumbledore the wizard reappears
work = NFL.com
publisher = NFL
date = 2004-01-13
url = http://web.archive.org/web/20070219203701/http://www.nfl.com/nflnetwork/story/7001075
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-07-11
]

North Korea

All television sets and radios used in North Korea must be pre-tuned to receive only government-approved stations. This is to ensure that only news reports and other media in favor of the North Korean Communist government can be broadcast within the nation and that South Korean broadcast stations that might air content objectionable to national morale are not received in the nation. Some TV and radio stations in South Korea have signals capable of passing the Korean Demilitarized Zone that serves as the border between North and South Korea. While technically some South Korean broadcast signals may be received within North Korea, such action is prohibited by government policy. Attempting to receive such broadcasts within North Korea can carry severe punishment and arrest. [cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = BBC News - Country Profile - North Korea - Media
work = BBC.co.uk
publisher = BBC
date = 2007-05-21
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/country_profiles/1131421.stm#media
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-06-08
] This type of blackout is a form of censorship.

References


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