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Cox Media pulls channels off DirecTV, U-Verse

A DirecTV satellite dish. (Photo by "Hurricane Geek" via Wikimedia Commons)
A DirecTV satellite dish. (Photo by “Hurricane Geek” via Wikimedia Commons)

Cox Media Group pulled around a dozen television stations from DirecTV-owned satellite and streaming platforms late Friday evening, after a contract between the two sides lapsed without a new agreement in place.

The decision to pull the channels came about a week after Cox Media began warning subscribers of DirecTV and U-Verse (formerly AT&T U-Verse) that they could lose access to one or more local broadcast stations if both sides were not able to reach a new agreement by Friday, February 2.

In a late-night e-mail to The Desk, a spokesperson for DirecTV said Cox Media exercised its right to force a programming blackout of its stations on DirecTV-owned platforms, which includes DirecTV via Internet, DirecTV Stream, DirecTV via Satellite and U-Verse.

DirecTV had offered Cox Media the opportunity to keep its channels on the platform while both sides worked toward a new agreement, but the offer of an extension was rejected by Cox Media, DirecTV said.

“CMG is playing chicken with the industry, willfully ignoring the economics that its programming does not warrant a double-digit annual rate increase on top of an already exorbitant fee structure,” a spokesperson for DirecTV said late Friday evening.

“By pulling its stations, CMG intends to penalize its viewers twice: Once when pulling the programming, and again when they return it at an unwarranted higher rate, adding insult to injury,” the spokesperson continued.

It is the second time Cox Media has pulled its local broadcast stations from DirecTV in the last three years, with the first blackout occurring in the days leading up to Super Bowl LV (55) in 2021. Then, the situation was resolved hours before the big game was set to take place.

This time around, the blackout threatens to prevent hundreds of thousands of DirecTV and U-Verse subscribers in two cities — Seattle and Dayton, Ohio — from watching Super Bowl LVIII (58) through their pay television service. CBS has the domestic telecast rights to the Super Bowl this year, and Cox Media Group owns the CBS affiliate in both markets — KIRO (Channel 7) in Seattle and WHIO (Channel 7) in Dayton.

DirecTV and U-Verse subscribers won’t be totally in the dark, though: CBS is airing a kid-friendly version of Super Bowl LVIII on Nickelodeon, which isn’t affected by the dispute between Cox Media and DirecTV. Customers can also install an over-the-air antenna to watch the game on KIRO and WHIO for free, or stream Super Bowl LVIII with a free trial to Paramount Plus with Showtime, which offers live access to NFL games through the Internet.

KIRO and WHIO are just two of 13 stations that are impacted by the dispute between DirecTV and Cox Media. The other stations that were pulled late Friday night include:

  • KEVU-CD (Channel 23) in Eugene, Oregon
  • KLSR (Channel 34, Fox) in Eugene, Oregon
  • WAXN (Channel 64) in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • WFOX-DT4 (Channel 30, Telemundo) in Jacksonville, Florida
  • WFTV (Channel 9, ABC) in Orlando
  • WFXT (Channel 25, Fox) in Boston
  • WPXI (Channel 11, NBC) In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • WRDQ (Channel 27) in Orlando
  • WSB-TV (Channel 2, ABC) in Atlanta
  • WSOC (Channel 9, ABC) in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • WSOC-DT2 (Channel 9, Telemundo) in Charlotte, North Carolina

As with the two CBS stations, most of those missing channels can be received for free with an over-the-air antenna. The lone missing NBC affiliate — WPXI — also streams via Peacock when subscribers opt for the Premium Plus tier, which costs $12 per month. Fox and ABC programming streams on Hulu one day after shows air on those networks.

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The dispute centers around fees that broadcasters like Cox Media demand from pay TV distributors like DirecTV in exchange for the rights to offer their channels to subscribers. Over time, DirecTV and other companies have complained that these fees have increased without much justification, particularly as more premium programming like live sports and prime-time shows shift to streaming platforms.

Cox Media has been particularly aggressive in demanding more money through retransmission consent fees since their broadcast portfolio was acquired by private equity firm Apollo Global Management in 2019. Since then, Cox Media has pulled its channels off a number of platforms over retransmission fees, including Suddenlink, DirecTV and Frontier. Subscribers of Dish Network have not had access to Cox Media-owned channels since November 2022.

Executives at Cox Media say they’re not seeking higher fees simply for the heck of it — they’re trying to invest in “high-quality local news and investigative journalism” on their stations (the Cox-owned Fox affiliate in Eugene uses characters from the hit animated show “The Simpsons” on their news website to illustrate this point), and the fees they collect off the backs of cable and satellite customers help fund these initiatives.

“While we’ve been signing dozens of fair-market carriage deals that bring our high-quality programming to more than 50 million viewers, DirecTV has been dropping hundreds of TV stations and depriving its customers of the local content they want and paid DirecTV for,” Marian Pittman, an executive vice president at Cox Media, said in a statement on Friday.

Pittman continued: “CMG is proud of our commitment to investing in high-quality local news and investigative journalism. DirecTV’s actions threaten those investments and hurt consumers who rely on us for local news, weather, and a robust slate of sports and other popular entertainment programming. Dropping CMG stations and blocking viewers from accessing local news and programming is DirecTV’s latest bullying tactic to try to harm local journalism.”

The statement appears to contradict real-world moves made by Cox Media and its parent Apollo Global over the past several years. In September 2021, while Apollo Global was finalizing its acquisition of Cox Media’s radio and television stations, the company laid off around 80 middle-management employees at its Atlanta headquarters and around a dozen workers at its Boston-area Fox affiliate, according to news reports. Numerous on-air and behind-the-scenes workers within Cox Media’s radio division also received pink slips, the website Radio Insight reported.

Some of Apollo Global’s other business units have suffered the same fate over the past few years. Last February, Apollo Global laid out plans to eliminate around 1,000 jobs at Yahoo, representing around 20 percent of the brand’s global workforce. Yahoo owns websites like Engadget, AOL.com and TechCrunch, the latter of which completed a fresh round of layoffs last week.

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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).