Indie broadcaster warns of carriage dispute with new DirecTV

(Logo courtesy DirecTV/Graphic designed by The Desk)

The satellite service DirecTV may have a new owner and a new logo, but one independent television broadcaster says the pay TV provider is up to some old tricks.

This week, Heritage Broadcasting began warning viewers on three of its television channels that a carriage dispute with DirecTV may force their channels off the satellite service.

The channels affected include CBS affiliate WWTV (Channel 9) and Fox affiliate WFQX (Channel 32), both of Cadillac, Michigan. The stations also provide CW Network and Ion Television programming on digital sub-channels, some of which are carried by DirecTV.

The notice says DirecTV may be forced to pull the stations after August 31 if the broadcaster is unable to reach a new agreement with the satellite provider.

Until recently, DirecTV was a subsidiary of telecom giant AT&T, which purchased the satellite broadcaster for $67 billion in cash and assumed debt in 2015. Earlier this year, AT&T announced its intention to spin off DirecTV into a separate company, one that would be majority-owned by AT&T but otherwise exist as an independent unit with the financial backing of a private equity firm.

Heritage says their negotiations with DirecTV date back to AT&T’s ownership. The spin-off of DirecTV into a separate unit, which was completed earlier this month, didn’t help the indie broadcaster reach an agreement.

“Heritage Broadcasting Company of Michigan has been negotiating with DirecTV for months to come to terms on an agreement for continued carriage of [WWTV], but DirecTV has continued to reject Heritage’s requests for reasonable compensation for the station’s programming to allow Heritage to continue to deliver the service [WWTV’s] viewers have come to expect,” a statement posted on the station’s website said.

Few details were available about what sparked the carriage dispute, but disagreements between programmers like Heritage and distributors like DirecTV have become common as broadcasters spend millions of dollars investing in network affiliations and their programming only to seek compensation from cable, satellite and streaming distributors.

Last year, DirecTV yanked dozens of local broadcast stations operated by TEGNA, a dispute that left football fans without games on CBS, Fox or NBC in markets where TEGNA owned those affiliated station. At the time, DirecTV accused TEGNA of demanding a hefty fee increase — one it warned would eventually be passed on to subscribers in the form of higher fees.

Earlier this year, several Cox Media stations went dark on DirecTV due to a similar carriage dispute. Those stations were restored in time for the Super Bowl, which aired on some local CBS stations owned by the company.

Heritage Broadcasting could face a tougher battle against DirecTV since it owns just a handful of station that primarily broadcasting to a small market.

If a carriage dispute is engaged, Heritage Broadcasting says viewers can find WWTV and WFQX by switching to cable or Dish Network, or by installing an antenna. The station’s newscasts can also be streamed online using the free VUit app for Apple and Android devices.