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DIRECTV vs. Northwest: Will It Ever End?

Q. I read about DIRECTV’s fight with Nexstar stations, but what about the fight with Northwest Broadcasting. I’ve been without my ABC station in Greenville for six months! But no one writes about that?! When will it end? Do you have any answers on that? — Billie, Greenville, Mississippi. 

Billie, you are right. I have written about AT&T’s fee fight with more than 120 Nexstar-owned local stations which has led to their blackout on DIRECTV, AT&T TV Now, and U-verse since July 3. (AT&T owns all three services.)

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But AT&T’s programming dispute with Northwest Broadcasting began on February 22. That means that DIRECTV, U-verse and AT&T TV Now viewers have been without their Northwest-owned local stations for roughly six months. (Northwest owns around 20 local channels in 10 markets, including Syracuse, New York, Spokane, Washington, Yuma, Arizona, Yakima, Washington, and Billie’s Greenville, among others.)

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The protracted dispute should give Nexstar viewers the shudders because it illustrates that AT&T is prepared to wait a long, long time if it does not believe it’s getting a good deal from the local broadcaster. While pay TV providers, such as DIRECTV, once feared losing subscribers due to a channel blackout, they are far more concerned now with limiting programming acquisition costs. AT&T will happily trade some customer defections for a reduction in expenditures.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Nexstar fight will extend six months, or more. The Northwest-AT&T battle is different than the Nexstar-AT&T dispute.

Northwest has far fewer stations, and most of them are in relatively small markets. Consequently, it’s easier for AT&T to play hardball with Northwest because the impact of the blackout is smaller. In addition, the media (yes, including yours truly) has largely ignored the AT&T-Northwest fight, and that also makes it easier for AT&T to hold out because there is less pressure on it to end the controversy.

So I don’t see AT&T signing a deal anytime soon. The company would rather take the savings now for not carrying the stations at all.

That may sound pessimistic. But it would appear that Northwest Broadcasting would agree. In a July 24 statement to its viewers, the company said:

“It is clear that ATT/Directv is working a strategy that is far bigger than getting a successful negotiation completed and giving their customers the stations back they want. It has become clear over the last couple of months that they have no intention of getting this done,” the statement read.

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— Phillip Swann

About TV Answer Man (1646 Articles)
The TV Answer Man is veteran journalist Phillip Swann who has covered the TV technology scene for more than two decades. He will report on the latest news and answer your questions regarding new devices and services that are changing the way you watch television.

5 Comments on DIRECTV vs. Northwest: Will It Ever End?

  1. Barb Grapes // August 20, 2019 at 2:32 pm // Reply

    So, we have been With our our local ABC & CW station her since May 30th. I believe they are owned by Sinclair. Then on July 3rd we lost CBS with the Nexstar blackout. My complaint to THE FCC went nowhere because they don’t want to get in the middle of a contract dispute. There is no high speed cable internet here so we can’t stream anything. What can we do?

  2. I’ve argued with them until I’m blue in the face… I’ve asked for the national affiliates to be “turned on” in lieu of the blacked out locals, until they reach a resolution. It’s the range of channels (Dtv 389-399) that we had before locals were ever available. They could satisfy a lot of people in the short term by that simple jesture.

  3. TV Answer Man // August 20, 2019 at 2:52 pm // Reply

    They are not permitted to do that.

  4. I know it’s not as simple as flipping a switch, but why not fight for their customers? They’re clearly not paying Northwest, Nexstar, or Deerfield… Take that money and pay for us to have the nationals. It genuinely feels like they do not give a crap about their customer base. I’ve been a LONG TIME loyal Dtv customer and I always bragged about their great customer service and product offerings, but it’s just steadily declined since ATT took control. I understand the industry landscape has changed and broadband distribution is the future, but so far they’ve done a poor job adapting, IMO.

  5. Northwest has a clause in the contract that makes it apply to all stations. The pending selling of the stations to COX is the sticking point. This would impact At&t current deals with Cox. Until the purchase goes through and Cox owns the stations, there is no reason for At&t to move.

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