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DirecTV offers bill credits, Visa gift cards during TEGNA blackout

Customers can receive credits to offset the loss of one or more TEGNA-owned local station.

Customers can receive credits to offset the loss of one or more TEGNA-owned local station.

A DirecTV satellite installation van. (Photo by Mike Mozart via Wikimedia Commons)
A DirecTV satellite installation van. (Photo by Mike Mozart via Wikimedia Commons)

Satellite and streaming television service DirecTV is offering bill credits to customers who lost one or more channel due to its most-recent business dispute with local broadcaster TEGNA.

Subscribers who received a TEGNA-owned affiliate of ABC, CBS, CW Network, Fox, NBC or Estrella TV are eligible to request programming-related credits through the DirecTV Promise website (click or tap here), with the credit applied within two billing cycles. The credits are available to those who subscribe to DirecTV via Satellite, DirecTV via Internet, DirecTV Stream and U-Verse (formerly AT&T U-Verse), as the situation with TEGNA impacts customers of all four services.

Additionally, DirecTV has started mailing some customers of its DirecTV via Internet and DirecTV Stream services with a loyalty reward in the form of a $25 Visa gift card, according to several emails mailed to subscribers and reviewed by The Desk.

Not all customers will receive the Visa gift card offer: A person familiar with the initiative at DirecTV told The Desk late Friday evening that the company is prioritizing DirecTV via Internet and DirecTV Stream subscribers who live in an area where their local CBS or NBC affiliate is owned by TEGNA, and where an individual customer “watch[es] a significant amount” of local programming on their TEGNA station based on internal subscriber data.

The Visa gift cards are intended to offset the cost of a Peacock Premium Plus subscription for those without their local NBC station or a subscription to Paramount Plus with Showtime for customers who lost access to CBS, the person said. Peacock offers streaming access to TEGNA-owned NBC affiliates in the Premium Plus version of their service, which costs $12 per month and doesn’t require a contract. Likewise, Paramount Plus with Showtime offers streaming versions of local CBS affiliates owned by TEGNA in their own contract-free, $12 per month plan. Both services offer free trials, and are widely supported on streaming TV platforms, including Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Android TV (Google TV).

DirecTV and U-Verse customers who lost access to their local Fox and ABC stations have few affordable options to watch those channels over the Internet. The Walt Disney Company, which owns the ABC network, includes local Fox and ABC stations owned by TEGNA in Hulu with Live TV, a DirecTV Stream competitor that costs $76 per month. A cheaper version of Hulu that offers episodes of ABC and Fox’s prime-time programming one day after they air on TV costs around $9 per month, but that plan doesn’t include live access to ABC or Fox stations.

DirecTV customers who just want to watch local news from their now-missing TEGNA-owned stations can use Fox’s free, ad-supported streaming service Tubi, which offers free access to live local newscasts from all news-producing TEGNA stations. Live and on-demand newscasts from TEGNA stations are also available through the free NewsOn app, which is owned by broadcast rival Sinclair.

Most DirecTV customers can also access their missing TEGNA stations by installing a TV antenna into the back of their TV sets, then using the TV’s built-in digital tuner to scan for stations. On Friday, a DirecTV executive said the company was proactively installing TV antennas at restaurants and bars that subscribe to DirecTV for Business, so those establishments can continue to offer live sports and news programming from TEGNA-owned stations to their customers.

Not all customers will be able to reliably receive their local stations with an antenna — those who live in remote areas, especially with steep terrain, may find it difficult, if not impossible, to receive their missing channels. Which is one of the reasons why DirecTV says it is still working to make a deal with TEGNA that allows it to bring back the missing channels without also having to raise rates on subscribers.

Like other pay TV providers, DirecTV is required by law to pay broadcasters like TEGNA for local stations that are redistributed on its service, and those costs are passed along to customers in their bills. Last week, DirecTV said TEGNA demanded a “double-digit” rate increase, which would have caused subscriber bills to go up.

TEGNA doesn’t dispute this; instead, a spokesperson for the company said it was simply asking for a new agreement based on the “fair market” value of its channels. On Friday, a DirecTV executive said TEGNA was using fuzzy math to determine the “fair market” value, and said the company’s reach and programming didn’t justify an agreement that forces all customers to pay for its channels.

To that end, DirecTV said it proposed a novel arrangement where TEGNA’s channels would be offered to customers on an a la carte basis. Under the proposal, TEGNA would be allowed to charge whatever it wanted for access to its stations, and DirecTV customers would have the option of subscribing to those channels or choosing to receive them in another way.

That structure would be fundamentally better than how customers might receive TEGNA-owned channels through Peacock Premium Plus or Paramount Plus with Showtime, or any other service, because it would make TEGNA stations available to all DirecTV and U-Verse customers, even if they didn’t subscribe to a base programming package, DirecTV’s Chief Programming Officer Rob Thun said this week.

Ask for their view on the proposal, a TEGNA spokesperson said they didn’t feel it was the best arrangement for carriage of their stations.

“We’re committed to reaching an agreement that continues to ensure all of DirecTV’s subscribers in our communities have access to the local and national news, sports and entertainment our stations offer, while providing our stations with the fair compensation they need to continue their significant investments in the content viewers value,” the spokesperson said in an email to The Desk on Friday. “In contrast, DirectTV’s proposal to instead require its customers to pay yet another standalone fee for our local stations – unlike all other broadcast stations – disserves subscribers and is not productive.”

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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).