Local television station owner TEGNA says it is still negotiating with AT&T for a deal that would restore around five dozen TEGNA-owned broadcast stations to DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse.
The stations have been unavailable to DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse customers since the beginning of the month when a carriage agreement between TEGNA and AT&T lapsed without a new deal in place.
“We are continuing to work hard to reach a fair, market-based agreement with AT&T,” a TEGNA spokesperson wrote in an email to The Desk on Friday. “We are committed to getting our stations back on AT&T’s systems as soon as possible. Our viewers shouldn’t miss another weekend of NCAA and NFL football, not to mention their local news, weather and sports updates and their favorite network programming.”
On December 2, an AT&T spokesperson said TEGNA was demanding the “largest rate increase we have ever seen.” A person familiar with discussions between the two sides said AT&T offered TEGNA more money to keep the stations on DirecTV and U-Verse, but TEGNA pulled its stations from those platforms anyway.
Carriage disputes between pay TV companies and programmers are becoming increasingly common as programmers like TEGNA demand more money in exchange for the right to carry their channels on pay TV systems like DirecTV and U-Verse. Distributors like AT&T have resisted these efforts, saying those increased carriage fees are typically passed down to consumers in the form of higher bills — which has historically proven to be true.
Programmers like TEGNA say they’re not the bad guys: It’s expensive to produce high-quality TV shows, sporting events and local and national newscasts. And national broadcasters like ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox have demanded more money over the years from local station owners in exchange for the right to affiliate with their network.
The carriage dispute between TEGNA and AT&T has come under scrutiny over the last several weeks as football fans in several markets where TEGNA owns the NBC, Fox or CBS station have had to miss one or more locally-televised football games. Some AT&T customers have been pushed toward Locast, a free streaming TV service, as a solution to watch local programming offered by TEGNA, but Locast is not available in every market impacted by the dispute.
The Desk has repeatedly asked TEGNA to provide insight into how much money is being asked of AT&T in exchange for the right to carry its programming, but so far those requests have been ignored. Instead, TEGNA says it is merely asking AT&T to pay what it charges other companies, though TEGNA won’t reveal how much those deals are worth.
“We have made clear that we are prepared to reach a deal at rates that are competitive with the rates that we have recently agreed to with operators of all sizes,” a TEGNA spokesperson said.
When asked if these carriage deals ultimately lead to higher fees for customers, TEGNA said companies like AT&T have raised rates on customers for years independent of their programming agreements.
“It is the programming that companies like ours delivers that makes a subscription to providers like DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse valuable,” the spokesperson said.