Several retransmission fee disputes are brewing for the new year, with multiple deals set to expire as 2019 begins.
Tribune Media is warning Charter Communications customers in 24 markets about a potential blackout; the Disney Media Networks Group is warning subscribers to Verizon FiOS of the same; and several smaller providers face looming deal expiration deadlines.
Tribune’s retrans deal with Charter covers 33 stations in major metros like New York (WPIX) and Los Angeles (KTLA), as well as Tribune’s cable channel WGN America. It expires at one minute past midnight on 1 Jan.
“We are only a few days away from the deadline to reach an agreement with Spectrum, just as we have done with every one of our other cable, satellite and telco distributors,” said Gary Weitman, Tribune Media’s senior vice president for corporate relations. “We felt that now was the time to begin telling Spectrum subscribers that they may lose access to our stations and the programming they provide.”
Tribune said that more than 6 million customers will be affected, and to make matters worse, the blackout would mean no access to the NFL playoffs, college Bowl games and NCAA basketball – crucial ratings events for broadcasters and programmers alike, and a big leverage point against distributors given the real possibility of customer defections.
“The NFL playoffs begin Jan. 5 and we want football fans in our markets to be able to watch these games and root for their favourite teams—we want to reach an agreement with Spectrum,” Weitman continued. “We’ve offered Spectrum fair market rates for our top-rated local news, live sports and high-quality entertainment programming, and similarly fair rates for our cable network, WGN America. Spectrum has refused our offer.”
In a statement, Charter said it continues to “negotiate with Tribune and hopes to reach a fair agreement.”
Meanwhile Disney, parent of the ABC broadcast network, warned Verizon Fios customers that a blackout could ensue if their retrans deal expires on midnight Jan. 1.
The affected channels include the ABC TV stations in the major markets of New York and Philadelphia, ESPN, Freeform and the gamut of Disney kids cable networks, including the flagship Disney Channel. ESPN will be carrying the upcoming college football championship playoff games as well as an NFL wild card playoff game.
“Our proven history of providing extraordinary value to consumers and distributors is unmatched. Our negotiations continue in earnest and we remain optimistic that we can reach a deal,” Disney said in a statement.
For its part, FiOS said: “We are actively negotiating with Disney to ensure the best deal for our customers.”
In addition to these major rows, smaller providers have their own problems. Cableco Mediacom Communications for instance is faced with a 31 Dec. deadline for negotiating a deal to carry 10 Tegna TV stations in Louisville, Ky. (WHAS-ABC); Macon, Ga. (WMAZ CBS and WMAZ-D2 ); Minneapolis-St. Paul (KARE-NBC); New Orleans (WWL-CBS and WUPL-MyNetwork); Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News, Va. (WVEC-ABC); Phoenix (KPNX-NBC); St. Louis (KSDK-NBC; and Tucson, Ariz. (KMSB-FOX).
And, TDS Communications could see a blackout of Nexstar Media TV stations starting 31 Dec., in small markets in Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah and Nevada. This news comes as Nexstar is looking to buy broadcast giant Tribune for $6.4 billion; and TDS claims the company is demanding a 175% increase in retrans rates.