Q. I lost my CBS station on DIRECTV a few weeks ago and it has me worried quite a bit that I will miss the football games this year. Do you know when this fight between CBS and DIRECTV will end? — Charlie, Baltimore.
Update: On August 8, AT&T and CBS reached a new deal, ending the blackout.
Charlie, as you know, on July 19, DIRECTV (and DIRECTV Now and U-verse) lost the local CBS affiliates in 16 markets due to a dispute over how much it should pay CBS to carry them. The markets are: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, Tampa, Detroit, Minneapolis, Miami, Denver, Sacramento, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
(Note: DIRECTV, DIRECTV Now and U-verse, all owned by AT&T, are also missing some CBS affiliates in other markets due to separate carriage disputes. But this column is focused on the fight between the satcaster and the CBS-owned affiliates in the aforementioned 17 markets.)
The two sides have made some contentious public statements, accusing each other of acting irresponsibly. But that’s par for the course in these types of disputes so I wouldn’t take their words as a sign for how long it will go on.
AT&T, which owns DIRECTV, is trying to redefine how the carriage game is played, for itself, and in some small part, for the industry as a whole. The telco, which has sharply criticized escalating programming fees, wants to draw a line in the sand with CBS. If it can get the network to lower its demand, it might lead to a reduction in fees from all programmers.
On the other hand, CBS, which has benefitted greatly from the rise in carriage fees over the last decade, wants to keep the gravy train rolling at normal speed, particularly now when pay TV operators are seeking to cut costs due to a decline in subscription numbers. The network’s position: You can cut costs, but don’t cut ours.
So the differences between the two are significant and not easily glossed over with one or two negotiation sessions. Consequently, I think this fight will extend until September, the beginning of the NFL regular season. At some point early in September, pressure from football fans and advertisers will finally spark a solution, albeit one that both sides are not terribly thrilled with.
Charlie, this is just speculation on my part. But knowing how these things go, I think you’ll see CBS back in your DIRECTV lineup by game two of the NFL regular season.
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— Phillip Swann