It’s been a difficult start to 2017 for several companies seeking a new retransmission fee agreement with the AT&T-owned DirecTV.
Across the U.S., subscribers have lost access to local network affiliates for long stretches of time, as the DBS and cable TV service provider fail to reach one new retrans deal after the other prior to screens fading to black for an indefinite period.
The Manship family’s Louisiana Television Broadcasting has become the latest broadcast TV station owner to run into a brick wall with DirecTV. Their two TV stations, ABC-affiliated KRGV-5 in McAllen-Brownsville-Harlingen, Tex.; and ABC-affiliated WBRZ-2 in Baton Rouge; went dark on DirecTV late Friday night (4/7) as no new deal was reached before the end of its most recent accord.
In a message appearing on the WBRZ website, the station explained, “After months of attempting to come to an agreement, DirecTV has failed to realize the importance of local news and entertainment and pulled WBRZ programming from its lineup.”
The station continued, “DirecTV customers are not being allowed to watch the station’s local news or ABC television shows.”
In Louisiana Television Broadcasting’s view, DirecTV “refused to agree to terms that would have allowed the company to sell WBRZ’s free, over-the-air television content.”
It blamed DirecTV for removing WBRZ; in reality, DirecTV and other MVPDs are prohibited from providing any channels without a retransmission agreement in place. Thus, DirecTV had no choice but to drop WBRZ and KRGV; an interim agreement was not noted by LTB.
DirecTV has offered no comment on WBRZ and KRGV.
For its part, LTB said WBRZ “continues to make attempts to help DirecTV reach an agreement.” To further its cause, it is asking DirecTV subscribers to rally around the station and ask for a refund or rebate for not showing local programming. “While on the phone, customers can ask that WBRZ programming be returned to the pay service,” the station said.
WBRZ is one of just two locally owned and operated TV stations in Louisiana.
The KRGV website features a brief note saying that negotiations with DirecTV “have reached an impasse.”
Station management said that KRGV “continues to negotiate in good faith with DirecTV, and we hope to reach a resolution in a timely manner.”
DirecTV: ‘A History Of Behaving Badly’
The Manship family now has something in common with a family-owned broadcaster headquarted in St. Joseph, Mo.
As the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend unfolded, DirecTV found itself mired in a heated retransmission accord battle with a broadcast television station owner — News-Press & Gazette Company.
Some 18 of its TV stations across the nation faded to grey on Jan. 12 on DirecTV.
What did the company have to say about that?
“We’re dealing with a company that has a history of behaving badly,” it said in a message to DirecTV viewers.
The company noted DirecTV’s track record of blacking out channels during negotiations, saying that DirecTV’s behavior now “is consistent with how they’ve handled multiple local station blackouts and dozens of cable networks.”
At the time, AT&T said News-Press & Gazette had “suspended its stations from our customers and threatened others before so we appreciate our DirecTV customers’ patience as we work to resolve this matter quickly and reasonably.”
A resolution was reached Jan. 20, ending the second instance since 2013 where News-Press & Gazette stations went dark on DirecTV.
Big Player Blacked Out
On March 16, AT&T U-Verse dropped all Raycom Media-owned stations from its channel lineups in 23 different markets.
The TV station owner noted that this represents the “fifth takedown of service by AT&T U-Verse” since its merger with DirecTV.
Prior to the AT&T merger with DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse had no signal disruptions during retransmission negotiations.
A new agreement was reached March 26.
Then, there’s Hearst Television, which saw its 31 broadcast television stations and their digital multicast partners across 26 markets go dark on the DBS provider on New Year’s Day. A new deal was reached on Jan. 7.
Among the stations that lost DirecTV coverage for six days are ABC affiliate WTAE-4 in Pittsburgh; NBC affiliate KCRA-3 in Sacramento; NBC WESH-2 and The CW WKCF-18 in Orlando; WPBF-25 in West Palm Beach; and ABC WCVB-5 in Boston — arguably its biggest TV station.
Prior to New Year’s Eve, Hearst had boasted that a blackout for DirecTV subscribers would be rare, and unlikely, noting that Hearst “has a long history of successfully concluding carriage agreements with cable companies and other satellite distributors with no disruption of service to subscribers.”
After its stations went dark, Hearst then went on the defensive. It said, “Throughout this process our negotiating team has been ready and available around-the-clock, including throughout the holiday weekend, to engage in substantive negotiations with DirecTV; however, we’ve been thwarted by what appears to be a strategy of unrealistic proposals and outright delay by a national distributor that does not seek to serve their subscribers or local communities.”
The reported actions of DirecTV led TVFreedom, an advocacy group backed by the NAB, to write a column that assailed AT&T for “engaging in hardball retrans negotiations and refusing to pay market rates.”
It said of DirecTV’s parent, “AT&T’s pattern of behavior is a far cry from the consumer benefits it promised federal regulators when it proposed its DirecTV merger.”
RBR + TVBR