TV Answer Man, is there anything new with the DIRECTV and Mission fight? I can’t watch our Fox station here in Providence. Do you know if they are close to an agreement yet? — Marianne, Providence. 

Marianne, DIRECTV last Friday lost a few dozen local TV stations due to a carriage dispute with their owner, Mission Broadcasting. (The blackout also affects DIRECTV Stream and U-verse.) The stations, which are managed by Nexstar, are in 25 markets including New York. Providence, Rhode Island, Little Rock, Albuquerque, Abilene, Texas, Albany, New York and Erie, Pennsylvania, among others. You can see a complete list here.

Since the fee fight began, both sides have blamed the other with DIRECTV saying Mission (and Nexstar) are asking for too much money while the broadcaster claims the satcaster won’t pay fair market value for its signals. Such statements are typical in a carriage dispute and does not necessarily mean the sides are close or far apart in negotiations.

But one new thing did happen yesterday which could suggest the talks are not going well.

DIRECTV issued a press statement calling for Mission to return its stations now with less than two weeks before the 2022 mid-term congressional elections. (The satcaster made a similar plea to White Knight Broadcasting, which pulled three stations off DIRECTV three weeks ago when the companies could not reach a new pact.)

The satellite TV service, which argued that Mission and White Knight should accept its offer because it’s in the public interest, said it would pay the companies whatever higher carriage rates they ultimately agreed on in negotiations after the stations were returned before the election.

“This is a critical time in American political life,” DIRECTV stated. “We are less than two weeks from one of the most important Congressional midterm elections in American history, and gubernatorial elections in 36 states. The results of this midterm will have a profound impact on some of the most important political, public health and economic issues of our time.”

“DIRECTV has a standing offer to both Mission and White Knight, strongly urging the two broadcasters to return all stations immediately to impacted DIRECTV customers in 25 Nielsen DMAs,” the satcaster said. “In return, DIRECTV will pay Mission and White Knight whatever higher retransmission consent rates the parties eventually agree upon retroactively to the date the signals are reinstated.”

This may seem like a fair request and DIRECTV notes that some broadcasters postponed their carriage disputes in 2020 at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic to assure that all viewers would be informed of the latest health news.

However, Covid was a special case that triggered a series of unprecedented actions by pay TV companies and networks. The mid-term elections, as important as they may be, are held every two years and there’s little likelihood that Mission or White Knight will change their normal behavior for this one despite DIRECTV’s assertion that it’s a “critical time in American political life.” It’s in the broadcasters’ interest, if not the public interest, to withhold their signals while negotiations continue because it gives them more leverage.

As of this morning, neither broadcaster has commented on the satcaster’s statement, which is not surprising.

But the fact that DIRECTV issued the ‘Hail Mary’ public interest appeal could signal the company is getting frustrated with the negotiations and feels it need something to prod subscribers/viewers to put more pressure on Mission and White Knight.

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It remains to be seen if this will work.

Marianne, hope that helps. Happy viewing and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann