WASHINGTON — Omaha-based Rural Media Group has a mission to connect city slickers with country folk through programming centered on rural life.
But founder Patrick Gottsch says his group — and similar content providers — are being shoved aside by large cable companies with a much more urban focus.
And now Gottsch and the other providers are asking Congress for help.
Gottsch was in Washington last week with Daniel Whitney, the Nebraska resident more commonly known by his stage moniker Larry the Cable Guy.
“Pat Gottsch will not rest until every eye in America has ‘Hee Haw’ and the soybean report,” Whitney said.
The men said they were among a small group of people who met President Donald Trump at the White House, a visit that included a roundtable discussion and dinner.
They also stopped by the Nebraska congressional delegation’s weekly Capitol Hill breakfast for visiting constituents.
Gottsch told those at the breakfast about the Agricultural News and Rural Content Act of 2019, which was introduced by Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Bobby Rush, D-Ill.
Under that legislation, multichannel video programming distributors with 5,000 or more subscribers would be required to use at least 1% of their channel capacity for video programs that “predominantly serve the needs and interests of rural America.”
Rural Media Group is the parent company of both RFD-TV and the Cowboy Channel.
Gottsch pointed to media company mergers over the years that have resulted in large conglomerates based in urban areas.
“It’s created a situation where rural programming is being pushed aside,” Gottsch said.
At times, those large companies have dropped rural programming networks, refused to offer them in HD or stuck them into their more expensive tiers of channels, he said.
“It’s really the kiss of death,” Gottsch said of such moves.
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He specifically cited Comcast as a company that has dozens of minority-focused channels but has moved to wipe out rural channels.
A Comcast spokesman declined to comment, but company officials have previously suggested that dropping rural programming in some areas allowed it to focus on more popular channels.
For his part, Gottsch says Rural Media has evidence that its ratings justify inclusion with the hundreds of other channels being offered.
“We have to do a better job of communicating and staying in touch with our urban neighbors so farm bills can get passed and people understand where their food and fiber comes from,” Gottsch said.
Federal regulators told him that any move on their part would require congressional authorization.
That’s where the new legislation comes in — introduced by a Republican from the deep south and a Democrat representing the South Side of Chicago.
By the end of last week, the bill had garnered only nine co-sponsors, although that group does include members from both sides of the aisle.
None were from Nebraska or Iowa. Gottsch said they still have work to do asking lawmakers to back the bill.
Several members of Nebraska’s all-GOP congressional delegation said they would consider the proposal.
Rep. Don Bacon expressed reservations about the government mandating private sector behavior.
But the Omaha-area congressman also said that Gottsch “makes a very compelling case” and that it’s good for those in the city to have a better grasp on what’s happening out in the country.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry represents Lincoln as well as some rural counties.
Fortenberry said that Gottsch has exhausted commercial remedies and that consolidation in the media sector may be anti-competitive.
“You do not want to pass legislation that sort of picks a winner or loser by regulating content,” Fortenberry said. “But when you have this kind of trust, this kind of monopolistic situation, and they’re being crowded out and there is a public good here, there is an argument to be made.”