Q. My husband and I are afraid that we won’t have our local CBS station when it comes time for the Super Bowl because DIRECTV is fighting with Tegna, who owns WUSA, channel 9. What do you think? How long will this fight last in your opinion? — Jenny, Bowie, Maryland.
Jenny, as you note, DIRECTV this week lost 60 Tegna-owned local TV stations due to a dispute over how much the satcaster should pay the broadcaster in carriage fees. The list of blacked out stations includes your CBS affiliate, WUSA-TV.
There’s no public barometer to indicate when the stations will return because the negotiations are done in private. However, both sides continue to blame each other in public statements, citing greed for each other’s primary motivation.
Despite the war of words, I strongly believe that the disagreement with be settled long before Super Bowl 55, which is scheduled to take place February 7, 2021 at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa; CBS, which includes WUSA-TV, will broadcast the game.
In fact, I think the dispute will be resolved within the next week, and maybe even in the next 48 hours. I say that because both sides have strong motivations to end this quickly.
1. Tegna (and its network partners) desperately need DIRECTV’s subscriber base to boost its ratings during the holidays, which includes the final five weeks of the NFL season, not to mention other live sports such as college football’s bowl games. The networks are also planning a significant amount of holiday programming, and it will be partially wasted if the Tegna stations are not available on DIRECTV, which has roughly 15-16 million subscribers (although a smaller percentage of that is in Tegna markets). (AT&T’s U-verse, AT&T TV, and AT&T TV Now are also blacked out in this fight, which means more lost viewers.)
2. AT&T needs a quick resolution for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the paramount one is that the company is actively trying to sell DIRECTV now. It won’t help the company’s cause if subscribers start defecting because they can’t watch their favorite local channels. While it’s likely a large number of customers won’t cancel, even a small group of defections could make a complicated sale even more thorny.
So my guess is that we will see a rapid conclusion to this story. I may be wrong, but I have been covering these fights for years and I think I know a short-lived dispute when I see one.
Of course, the TV Answer Man will monitor this situation and report back here when new developments occur.
Until then, happy viewing, and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann