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.)
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.)
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