AT&T is in another contract dispute that could cause channel blackouts for its DirecTV and U-verse customers.
The dispute would affect stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which includes KMPH Fox 26 and KFRE CW in Fresno, Merced and Visalia, and go into effect as early as Saturday.
AT&T recently reached a deal with the Nexstar Media Group, to return those stations to its lineup after two months of high-profile negotiations – and calls from lawmakers. That was followed by warnings that ABC and ESPN stations could be in jeopardy if AT&T couldn’t reach an agreement with The Walt Disney Co.
Those fears seem to have been averted, according to the site Broadcasting and Cable.
In a statement released this week, Sinclair said its previous carriage agreement with AT&T was scheduled to end in August, but the two companies had agreed to a five-week extension. That extension expires on Friday, according to the release.
The blackout would affect 136 stations in 86 markets, including ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CW and My Nework affiliates, along with the Tennis Channel.
“Customers could miss thousands of hours of content, including NFL games starting in Week 4, post-season Major League Baseball and the start of the NHL and NBA seasons on broadcast television,” the statement said.
David Gibber, Sinclair’s senior vice president and general counsel, said AT&T “seems intent on using its tremendous market power to dictate to viewers which programming from other content providers they can receive, even as they continue to acquire content providers and push their own content to viewers.”
“Despite the tremendous market power of AT&T, most consumers of AT&T and DirecTV do have some other alternatives to receive our in-demand programming. Although it would be unfortunate to lose AT&T and DirecTV as customers, we are simply not prepared to sell our programming to them at the below market rates they are demanding due to their overwhelming market power,” he said.
The company seems to be hedging its bets on the negotiation, offering viewers alternatives via its website, keepmycontent.com.
“AT&T isn’t listening to you. If you are an AT&T customer, it’s time to switch to DISH, your local cable provider, or YouTubeTV,” the site states.
AT&T is not the only carrier experiencing blackouts.
According to the American Television Alliance, there have been more than 1,000 such blackouts since 2010 – 276 in 2019 alone. On Thursday, Fox pulled its owned and operated TV stations from DISH and Sling TV customers in 17 markets.
These blackouts – and the threats of missing out on college and pro football games – are often used by the broadcasters as leverage in negotiations to get higher fees, the ATVA said in a release.
Those fees that are ultimately paid by subscribers.
“We’re asking viewers who have been victimized by this or other blackouts to make their voice known to Congress that this is completely unacceptable,” said the group’s spokesman Trent Duffy.
“Since the summer surge of blackouts began, thousands of Americans have done just that.”
Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee