Q. Is there anything new in the fight with DIRECTV and Tegna? I have been without my CBS station here in Spokane for a week now. Do you see anything that suggests it will end soon? — Teresa, Spokane, Washington.
Teresa, AT&T’s TV services, which include DIRECTV and U-verse, have been missing 60 Tegna-owned local stations since December 1 due to a carriage dispute with their owner, Tegna. Both sides have been relatively quiet in the last few days, choosing to stand by previous statements which blame the other for the blackout.
However, there is one thing that has happened that could offer a sliver of hope.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has published a letter he has sent to the two companies, and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, calling for an immediate end to the fee fight. Brown’s state has three Tegna stations in DIRECTV’s lineup, WKYC-TV in Cleveland, WBNS-TV in Columbus and WTOL-TV in Toledo.
“Without access to local broadcasting networks, my constituents are unable to consume local news, entertainment, weather updates, traffic patterns, and other essential information,” Brown says in the letter. “In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it is more important now than ever to ensure that local communities across the state have equitable and reliable access to the most up-to-date local health and safety recommendations via local broadcasts. Public interest would be best served if carriage is fully restored by the all parties involved as soon as possible…We must hold companies accountable for any practices that disadvantage consumers.”
You might suggest that a single letter, even one from a high-profile U.S. senator, won’t force two stubborn companies to settle their differences. However, from my experience in covering these fee fights, politicians sometimes issue a ‘call to action’ shortly before a carriage battle is resolved. The politician gets a tipoff that the two sides are close to a resolution, and then he or she urges an end to the fight. When the battle is resolved soon thereafter, the politician looks like he saved the day when actually the two companies were close to settling anyway.
That might sound cynical, but it’s politics, folks. And if you notice, Brown does not call for an end to the Nexstar-Dish fee fight, which also includes stations in Ohio. It could be because he knows that the Dish-Nexstar dispute is more likely to last for several weeks or more.
We’ll see soon if Brown knows something we don’t. Until then, happy viewing, and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann