Local TV distributor TEGNA says it is negotiating around-the-clock with pay TV distributor AT&T over a deal that would restore its five dozen local broadcast stations on satellite platform DirecTV and fiber service U-Verse.
TEGNA’s channels in 51 regional television markets have been unavailable to DirecTV and U-Verse customers since Tuesday when a temporary agreement to keep the channels on those platforms expired with no new deal in place.
The issue stems from fees paid by distributors like AT&T to programmers like TEGNA for the right to re-distribute channels on its pay TV platforms. Those fees are typically passed on to consumers in the form of higher cable and satellite bills. Companies like AT&T have resisted efforts in recent years to make deals with programmers that would lead to higher charges, especially as many customers are dropping traditional satellite and cable TV services for cheaper online offerings.
This week, an AT&T executive accused TEGNA of asking for the “largest rate increase ever,” which the company said was “redundant” because many of its stations can be received with a free, over-the-air antenna.
Some of those stations can also be streamed for free on Locast, a not-for-profit streaming service that offers local broadcast stations over the Internet. Locast doesn’t pay for the right to re-transmit local stations where it operates; instead, it exploits a loophole in American copyright law that says it can offer local broadcast stations as long as it operates as a not-for-profit — which it does. AT&T has financially supported Locast in the past, and it started telling customers this week to use the streaming service in order to watch affected TEGNA stations.
TEGNA’s position is that it’s simply asking for a fair deal that was comparable to what it requested in re-transmission fees from other pay TV companies.
“We have made clear that we are prepared to reach a deal at rates that are competitive with the rates that we have agreed to with operators of all sizes over the past fourteen months,” Anne Bentley, a spokesperson for TEGNA, said in an email to The Desk on Saturday. “If AT&T is now willing to begin good faith discussions, we are confident we can get a deal done quickly.”