Sinclair faces prolonged dispute with Suddenlink over channels

(Image: Sinclair Broadcasting Group/Handout, Graphic: The Desk)

The Sinclair Broadcast Group this week said it is unlikely to reach an agreement with Altice-owned cable provider Suddenlink for continued carriage of two of its local broadcast channels.

The channels in question — ABC affiliate WCTI (Channel 12) and Fox affiliate WYDO (Channel 14) — were dropped from Suddenlink’s systems in the Greenville, North Carolina market earlier this month after a carriage agreement between Sinclair and Altice expired.

These types of carriage disputes are becoming increasingly common, with cable and satellite providers accusing broadcast station owners of hiking costs associated with carrying these channels. Those fees are often passed on to cable and satellite customers in the form of higher bills and are one of the biggest reasons cited among consumers for ditching traditional pay TV options for cheaper streaming services.

During these disputes, broadcasters often assert that they are merely asking for fair compensation, especially after investing millions of dollars in securing rights to entertainment and sports content, though they don’t typically dispute that a fee increase is requested.

The dispute between Sinclair and Suddenlink is unusual because, in most cases, broadcasters and pay TV distributors are often able to reach an agreement. In this case, Sinclair has started warning viewers of WCTI and WYDO that the channels may never return to Suddenlink’s systems.

“It is certainly possible that Suddenlink will never carry NewsChannel 12, WCTI in the future,” Sinclair said in its message.

The dispute means ABC and Fox programming is largely unavailable to Suddenlink customers in portions of North Carolina. While some customers might be able to receive WCTI and WYDO’s signals with an over-the-air antenna for free, others may find this difficult due to terrain or other obstacles, depending on where they live.

WCTI and WYDO’s news programming streams for free on the WCTI website and is available through Sinclair’s free streaming application STIRR. Some ABC and Fox programming is available on each network’s streaming apps one day after it airs on television; a few are also available on the Walt Disney Company’s streaming service Hulu, which costs around $6 a month.

Sinclair’s channels are also available on streaming cable TV alternatives, including Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, AT&T TV and Fubo TV. Sling TV is the cheapest of the bunch at $35 a month, though customers who want access to both Fox and ABC programming will have to spring for the service’s Blue and Orange tier, which costs $50 a month.

Thanks for reading and supporting The Desk. If you have a question, comment or news tip, send a message by email or text, or connect on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Also, check out our new membership service The Desk: Pro Access for exclusive reporting, news scoops and in-depth analysis.