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Hearst pulls channels from DirecTV, AT&T as negotiations continue

Local stations in as many as three dozens communities have been dropped from AT&T-owned pay TV platforms, including DirecTV.

The move comes as AT&T was negotiating a new agreement to carry channels owned by Hearst Television. AT&T’s rights to carry Hearst programming lapsed on December 31, but the two sides agreed to temporarily extend the agreement to Thursday afternoon, then extended it again to Friday evening.

In a statement distributed on the websites of affected channels, Hearst said the decision to remove its channels came after AT&T made “unreasonable demands” when it and AT&T were negotiating for the right to retransmit around 35 local channels on DirecTV, AT&T TV Now and other platforms.

Channels affected by the move include Sacramento NBC affiliate KCRA-TV (Channel 3), New Orleans NBC affiliate WDSU (Channel 6), Manchester ABC affiliate WMUR (Channel 8) and Baltimore NBC affiliate WBAL-TV (Channel 11). Hearst said those channels and others were not “blacked out” and could still be received for free with an antenna or by subscribing to cable.

It was not immediately clear what demands were made by AT&T, though it’s not unusual for programmers like Hearst to request more money in exchange for the right to carry local channels on cable and satellite. That rate comes as Hearst and other companies have made more of an investment in local news programming, syndicated shows and sports.

An AT&T spokesperson speaking on background told The Desk Friday afternoon that negotiations with Hearst appeared to hinge on how much the company was willing to pay for the right to carry local stations on both satellite and on over-the-top services like AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now), with AT&T pushing for a single deal that would cover Hearst channels across all platforms. Hearst requested a hefty fee increase in response, the spokesperson said.

In an earlier statement, Hearst said it had a history of successful retransmission negotiations that came without an interruption in programming for cable and TV subscribers. The last time the company pulled its stations from a platform was in 2017 when discussions between it and Dish Network ended without an agreement, resulting in a dispute that lasted for several weeks.

On Twitter, the official account for DirecTV told customers that it was Hearst’s choice to pull channels.

“We must have Hearst’s permission to their channels and asked Hearst to keep them available while we conclude a new business agreement privately,” the company said. “Hearst refused and chose to withhold them instead.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).