Tribune TV stations in 19 markets such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles went dark on DirecTV at midnight March 31 when the two companies were unable to reach a final carriage deal.
The move "surprised" DirecTV, which issued a statement one day before claiming it had accepted Tribune's terms for carriage of Tribune's 23 local stations and would continue negotiations for Tribune's cable network, WGN America.
Apparently that deal (if there ever was one) fell apart in short order, so the rhetoric has gotten nasty.
Millions of DirecTV subscribers are now without programming from American Idol to Nascar and Major League Baseball, depending on the market. In Chicago, for example, Cubs and White Sox baseball games broadcast on WGN-TV will be not be available to DirecTV subscribers, nor Phillies baseball on WPHL-TV and Mets games on WPIX in New York.
"[Tribune's] actions are the true definition of 'bad faith' in every sense of the term," DirecTV said in a statement. "We can't help but wonder whether Tribune's ability to negotiate a reasonable retransmission agreement with DirecTV is being undermined by the complexities and competing interests in their lengthy bankruptcy process….It seems they are focused on unduly benefiting their creditors rather than viewers."
For the first time in more than a decade, Tribune is asking DirecTV for compensation to carry its stations. In its own statement Tribune said that without a deal, it could not legally allow DirecTV to carry the signals.
"The situation is extremely unfortunate," said Nils Larsen, president of Tribune Broadcasting. "We don't want anyone to lose the valuable programming we provide. But we simply cannot get fair compensation from DirecTV, and we cannot allow DirecTV to continue taking advantage of us."
Tribune has set up a website where viewers can email DirecTV, call the local TV station or use social media to put pressure on DirecTV to come to terms. The site also reminds viewers that their local station can still be viewed for free over the air.
The Federal Communications Commission will no doubt get an earful about this standoff. The agency currently has a pending rulemaking open, though the changes proposed do not include preventing blackouts when parties can't come to a deal.