Q. I have DIRECTV and I lost my local Fox and CBS stations because they are fighting over money or something. Is there anything I can do to get my local channels back? — Carlos, Albuquerque.
Carlos, you’re right. DIRECTV and Nexstar, the owner of more than 120 local stations, including the two you mentioned in your town, have been embroiled in a fee dispute for nearly two weeks. This has caused hundreds of thousands of DIRECTV, DIRECTV Now and U-verse subscribers to lose their network affiliates.
In addition, Dish just lost 17 Meredith Broadcasting-owned local stations due to a separate programming dispute, and CBS is threatening to pull its locally-owned stations in 17 markets from DIRECTV and U-verse by this Friday if the two sides don’t reach a new carriage agreement. (Note: DIRECTV and U-verse are both owned by AT&T, which is handling the carriage negotiations.)
Update: Directv, U-verse and Directv Now lost the CBS-owned stations early Saturday morning. The two sides must now negotiate a new agreement before they will return.
So is there anyway to keep watching your local stations in one of these fee fights?
Yes, but it depends on where you live.
The easiest way to keep watching is to install an indoor or outdoor TV antenna which can pick up your local channels for free. However, before you run off to buy an antenna, you need to know that depending upon the location of your home, your antenna may not be able to pick up the signals of all your local channels. You may live too far away from the channel’s tower to get a decent signal, or you could have a major obstacle in the signal’s path, such as a high-rise office building or mountain. (The mountain issue is a common one in Albuquerque, Carlos.)
Also, since the nation’s transition to Digital TV a decade ago, many antenna owners complain that it’s been more difficult to capture local signals. Unlike the old analog signal, you need a perfect connection to capture the digital signal or it will not display on your set. There is no middle ground. You either get a digital signal or you don’t.
How can you tell if an antenna at your home will receive all your local channels?
Antennaweb.org, a web site co-sponsored by the Consumer Technology Association and the National Broadcasting Association, offers an easy-to-use guide to determining what kind of antenna you would need — and how many channels that antenna will pick up.
You type in your address, zip code and whether the antenna will be 30 feet or higher above ground level and then antennaweb.org will display a list of stations that you probably will be able to receive. I say ‘probably’ because until you actually test it at home, you can’t be 100 percent sure.
The web site also tells you what kind of antenna you’ll need to receive a specific station.
So what if you can’t use an antenna, you ask?
Well, there’s Locast.
Locast is a new, free service that delivers local channels over the Internet in 13 markets, which represents roughly 31 percent of U.S. population. (The markets are: New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Sioux Falls, Denver, Los Angeles, Rapid City, and San Francisco.)
You download the Locast app on a computer, tablet or Smart TV device such as Roku, provide a name and e-mail address, and suddenly you are watching all your local channels. I can’t vouch for the reliability of the signals. I have used Locast a few times and found it to be a bit inconsistent. But it’s free so you can’t beat that.
AT&T, the owner of DIRECTV and U-verse, has donated $500,000 to Locast, and installed the app on its Internet-based DIRECTV set-tops. So you will likely hear a lot more about Locast in the coming days.
Carlos, hope that helps. Happy viewing!
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— Phillip Swann