Local television broadcaster TEGNA is warning customers of DirecTV and U-Verse that their channels may be dropped by the end of the month.
The warning comes as DirecTV and TEGNA are in the middle of negotiating a new contract that allows the satellite and streaming pay television provider to carry its ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox-affiliated stations in more than 50 regions. All told, TEGNA owns nearly 70 local television stations, many of which are affiliated with a major network broadcaster, and any dispute between the two companies would also affect customers of DirecTV’s streaming service.
TEGNA and DirecTV last fought over carriage fees three years ago, when the pay TV provider was a wholly-owned subsidiary of AT&T. Then, DirecTV and U-Verse told affected viewers to stream TEGNA stations via Locast, and quickly arranged to make the app available through DirecTV and U-Verse Internet-connected set-top boxes.
Locast is no longer a thing, but DirecTV and U-Verse subscribers who live in an area where TEGNA provides one or more local broadcast station can typically receive those channels for free with an antenna. Other streaming services like Fubo TV, YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV also carry TEGNA-owned local stations. TEGNA-owned CBS affiliates are also available in the premium version of Paramount Plus.
As is typical, the dispute centers around fees that DirecTV and U-Verse must pay to TEGNA in exchange for the right to carry the broadcaster’s local ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates. And, like other broadcast companies, TEGNA has slowly raised the amount cable and satellite companies must pay for its stations over the years, a trend that ultimately leads to higher bills for customers of those service.
In a statement on Saturday, TEGNA said it was continuing to negotiate a new contract with DirecTV that contains “fair-market” rates for its programming.
“We are working hard to reach a fair, market-based agreement with DirectTV based on the competitive terms we’ve used to reach previous deals with DirectTV and other major providers,” a TEGNA spokesperson said in an email. “Thus far, DIRECTV has refused to agree to such terms, which is why we have begun informing DirecTV and U-Verse customers that they may lose access to their local TEGNA station and our valuable programming. We hope that DirecTV is willing to negotiate a market-based deal before the November 30 deadline and doesn’t take away DirecTV and U-Verse customers’ local news, weather, sports and network programs.”
A spokesperson for DirecTV was more critical of the situation, accusing TEGNA of leaking details of a private negotiation in an attempt to win over sympathy from its viewers for a situation that was mostly of its own making.
“TEGNA has once again made a private negotiation public in the hopes of creating unnecessary and premature concern among some of our customers to extract higher rates for local broadcast stations,” the DirecTV spokesperson said in an email to The Desk, which came shortly after TEGNA-owned stations began running on-air messages about the upcoming dispute.
The DirecTV spokesperson continued: “Unfortunately, that’s become the industry norm as the costs for free local stations have soared more than 20 percent year upon year upon year despite declining popularity and less-compelling content. We will continue to meet our customers’ demands for greater choice and value and do our utmost to shield them from unwarranted price hikes as we work with TEGNA to renew its stations without any interruption.”
The dispute comes as TEGNA and other broadcasters are currently lobbying federal regulators and lawmakers to realign cable-like carriage rules so that they also cover streaming cable upstarts like Fubo and YouTube TV. A group called the Coalition for Local News — which is entirely composed of independent broadcasters like TEGNA — says imposing carriage fee regulations on streaming services allows them to capture affiliate fee revenue that can be used to make better investments in local news (though that claim is questionable on its own, as coalition partners like Sinclair Broadcasting Group and the E. W. Scripps Company have laid off journalists and, in some cases, closed a number of their local newsrooms in an effort to cut costs).
For the moment, though, streaming services remain a good alternative to traditional cable and satellite platforms as local TV blackouts grow in numbers. DirecTV and U-Verse typically extend bill credits to affected subscribers when one or more local channels are pulled for extended periods of times, but customers who don’t want to wait for their channels to return and can’t receive them reliably with an over-the-air antenna should consider these other streaming alternatives for access to their missing ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox stations:
- Fubo is a sports-centric streaming service that offers local ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC stations throughout the country, along with sports channels like Fox Sports 1, ESPN, Fox Sports 2, CBS Sports Network, BeIN Sports and TUDN. A limited free trial to Fubo is available by clicking or tapping here, and the service is offering a Black Friday-Cyber Monday discount for new customers that can be viewed here. Fubo is available on all major streaming TV platforms, phones and tablets.
- Hulu with Live TV offers local ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC stations across the country, and includes a robust video on-demand library with access to episodes of network and cable channel shows about one day after they air on TV. Bundles that includes access to Disney Plus and ESPN Plus are also available. The service costs around $76 per month for live TV only, or $77 per month for Hulu with Live TV as well as the Hulu on-demand catalog.
- YouTube TV is one of the best streaming cable TV alternatives on the market, offering access to local ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC stations along with ESPN, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, CBS Sports Network, ACC Network, SEC Network, ESPN U, ESPNews, NFL Network, NBA TV and more. YouTube TV also includes an unlimited cloud DVR that stores recordings for at least nine months, plus access to the out-of-market football package NFL Sunday Ticket. YouTube TV costs $73 a month, but new customers can score a free trial and a discount on their first few months of service when they sign up by clicking or tapping this link.
- Paramount Plus with Showtime offers live access to local CBS stations and affiliates along with live and on-demand access to Showtime’s movies and television shows for $12 per month. More than 15 local CBS affiliates owned by TEGNA are available through Paramount Plus with Showtime, and new customers can score a Black Friday-Cyber Monday discount (or an extended free trial after Cyber Monday) when they sign up for service by clicking or tapping this link.
- Peacock is owned by NBC Universal, and an ultra-premium version of Peacock, called Peacock Premium Plus, includes access to 26 TEGNA-owned NBC affiliates for $12 per month.
- Some cable television providers offer a “limited basic” tier of service that includes access to ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox stations for less than the cost of a typical cable package. Note that some larger companies like Comcast and Charter-owned Spectrum TV may charge additional fees for access to broadcast stations.
To learn more about this and other programming-related issues, visit CarriageDispute.com.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story reported Sinclair Broadcast Group and the E. W. Scripps Company were among some of the independent broadcast owners that were closing local newsrooms. The story was updated to clarify that the companies, collectively, have taken a number of different cost-cutting approaches, including layoffs and newsroom closures.