Over the Top: Retransmission Fees and New Commodities in the U.S. Television Industry


  • Aaron Heresco
  • Stephanie Figueroa


This essay provides a brief institutional and structural account of the history and context of retransmission fees and the revenues they generate in the television industry. We argue that commodity formations within the television industry are broader, and more nuanced, than the sale of audiences (power, data, ratings, etc.) to advertisers. Despite widespread technological and economic shifts, the notion of the commodity audience still possesses a great deal of explanatory power in relation to contemporary media industries. The audience commodity has been, and will continue to be, a powerful force in the decision making and revenue streams of television, but new technologies such as streaming, IPTV, and direct subscription models have expanded the economic avenues available to capital within the television markets. Retransmission fees have figured prominently in shaping and constraining the contemporary television industry, granting programmers greater control over distribution and providing a profitable path forward for capital looking at new monetization strategies of television content.