The issue means Hulu with Live TV subscribers who pay for the $70 a month television service aren’t able to watch their local ABC affiliate if they live in one of about three dozen television markets.
Officials at Hulu confirmed the matter in an e-mail sent to subscribers between Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as through social media posts on customer support pages associated with the service.
Disney owns the ABC broadcast network as well as a majority stake in Hulu. The company has not moved to offer a national feed of ABC programming to affected Hulu subscribers, even though it offers such a feed on other streaming services, including Vidgo.
In a statement, officials at Sinclair said they had been holding discussions with Hulu over a new agreement, and were surprised to find the local channels dropped from the service.
“We were shocked and dismayed Hulu removed our station while in the middle of an active negotiation with no notice to its customers, despite our company’s numerous good faith attempts to negotiate a carriage deal and multiple unconditional extension offers to keep the programming on air,” a spokesperson for Sinclair said. “We call on Hulu, ABC and their owners at Disney to return to the negotiating table to end this unnecessary blackout.”
A spokesperson for Disney said the decision to remove Sinclair-owned ABC affiliates wasn’t as sudden as the broadcaster made it sound, and came “after months of negotiations.”
“We were unable to reach a fair, market-based agreement for the carriage of their local ABC affiliates on Hulu plus Live TV,” the Disney spokesperson affirmed. “While Sinclair chose to withhold their affiliates from the Hulu plus Live TV channel line-up, impacted subscribers can continue to watch their favorite next day ABC programming such as American Idol, The Bachelor, Abbott Elementary, and Grey’s Anatomy.”
The issue between Disney and Sinclair comes as more broadcast owners of independent network affiliates seek to reclaim retransmission consent negotiations with virtual multichannel video programming distributors (vMVPDs) like Hulu with Live TV. For years, those broadcast station owners allowed the parent companies of networks — like Disney is to ABC — to negotiate retransmission consent on their behalf, at a time when they mainly focused on deals with cable and satellite providers.
As more cable and satellite customers drop traditional pay television for cheaper streaming options, independent broadcast station owners see vMVPDs as becoming a more-viable way of generating retransmission revenue, also known as affiliate fee revenue. That type of revenue has quickly evolved to become the biggest part of the business for some station owners; over the last few months, TEGNA, Cox Media and others have affirmed their retransmission revenue has exceeded that of traditional advertising, The Desk has reported.
Live-streaming services were once insulated from the effects of retransmission consent disputes that have plagued satellite companies for years, but as broadcasters shift their focus toward streaming, they’ve found themselves in a similar situation.
In late 2021, YouTube TV briefly pulled Disney-owned ABC stations and cable networks after both sides were unable to reach a new retransmission agreement. Earlier that year, it warned customers about a similar dispute with Comcast’s NBC Universal that nearly led the service to drop channels owned by that company.
Earlier this year, streaming service Fubo TV was forced to drop dozens of local CBS affiliates after Sinclair and other independent broadcast owners rejected an offer from CBS parent company Paramount Global to continue negotiating deals with streaming services on their behalf. In that case, Paramount replaced the dropped CBS stations with a national feed of CBS programming.
The list of stations owned by Sinclair that were dropped from Hulu is below:
- KAEF (Channel 23) in Eureka, California
- KATU (Channel 2) in Portland, Oregon
- KATV (Channel 7) in Little Rock, Arkansas
- KDNL (Channel 30) in St. Louis, Missouri
- KHGI (Channel 13) in Lincoln, Nebraska
- KHGI-CD (Channel 13) in North Platte, Nebraska
- KOMO (Channel 4) in Seattle, Washington
- KRCR (Channel 7) in Redding, California
- KTUL (Channel 8) in Tulsa, Oklahoma
- KTVO (Channel 3) in Kirksville, Missorui
- KTXE-LD (Channel 38) in San Angelo, Texas
- KTXS (Channel 12) in Abilene, Texas
- KVII (Channel 7) in Amarillo, Texas
- KWNB (Channel 6) in Hayes Center, Nebraska
- WATM (Channel 23) in Johnstown, Pennsylvania
- WBMA (Channel 32) in Birmingham, Alabama
- WCHS (Channel 8) in Charleston, West Virginia
- WCTI (Channel 12) in Greenville, North Carolina
- WEAR (Channel 3) in Pensacola, Florida
- WGTU (Channel 29) in Cadillac, Michigan
- WHAM (Channel 13) in Rochester, New York
- WICD (Channel 15) in Decatur, Illinois
- WICS (Channel 20) in Springfield, Illinois
- WJLA (Channel 7) in Washington, D.C.
- WKEF (Channel 22) in Dayton, Ohio
- WLOS (Channel 13) in Asheville, North Carolina
- WPDE (Channel 15) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
- WSET (Channel 13) in Roanoke, Virginia
- WSYX (Channel 6) in Columbus, Ohio
- WTVC (Channel 9) in Chattanooga, Tennessee
- WXLV (Channel 45) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Viewers in areas where Hulu has been forced to drop the local ABC affiliate owned by Sinclair have a number of other ways to continue watching the station. Most viewers can buy a simple and inexpensive digital television antenna, like this one made by Mohu, and instantly receive their local ABC affiliate and other network stations in high definition.
Those who live too far away from their broadcast towers or who are in areas with difficult terrain might not be able to get their local ABC affiliate with an antenna. Viewers who can’t reliably receive their local ABC affiliate with an antenna should check out YouTube TV or Vidgo; each service carries local ABC affiliates (Vidgo offers a national feed of ABC programming in the few areas where it doesn’t have an agreement to carry the local station). YouTube TV and Vidgo both include ABC stations in their base programming package, which costs $65 a month. Fubo TV carries ABC affiliates in packages that cost slightly more, but also includes a number of national and regional sports channels that can be hard to find on other services.
Streamers who just want access to local newscasts produced by Sinclair-owned ABC affiliates can stream them for free through Sinclair’s Stirr app, which is available for phones, tablets, smart TVs and the Stirr website.