Tribune And DirecTV Do Five-Year Deal

EL SEGUNDO, CALIF., and CHICAGO: Tribune TV stations and DirecTV ended the retransmission standoff that brought blackouts in many markets over the weekend and persisted into Opening Day. The two announced last night that they’d buried the hatchet, restoring 23 Tribune TV stations in 19 markets and WGN to DirecTV’s programming lineup at around 9 p.m. on Wednesday night. The deal goes out five years. Terms were not disclosed.

The agreement came at the close of baseball’s Opening Day, but the night before the first game scheduled for the Chicago Cubs, Tribune’s home team. The blackout included WGN, which carries Cubbies and Sox games in Chicago; Mets coverage on WPIX-TV in New York; Phillies baseball on WPHL-TV in Philadelphia, and the Washington Nationals on WDCW-TV in Washington, D.C. The Cubs open today against the Nats at 1:20 p.m. Central at Wrigley Field.

Retransmission consent negotiations between the two came to a standstill last week. Tribune started warning its viewers to expect blackouts. Station signals were pulled from the satellite provider’s systems Saturday at midnight, when the existing carriage deal with Tribune expired.

Derek Chang of DirecTV and Nils Larsen of Tribune both issued statements announcing last night’s agreement. The two were front and center of the contentious negotiations that ultimately spilled over into the Federal Communications Commission. Chang was a co-signer on a complaint filed with the FCC on Tuesday charging Tribune with violating the commission’s rule that retrans negotiations be carried out in “ood faith.”

Larsen’s was benign: “We are extremely pleased to have reached an agreement with DirecTV and to return our valuable news, entertainment and sports programming to DirecTV subscribers,” he said. “On behalf of Tribune Broadcasting, I want to thank viewers across all of our markets for their support, understanding and patience during the negotiating process—we truly regret the service interruptions of the last several days.”

Chang’s, not so much. DirecTV’s complaint also accused Tribune of letting its creditors interfere with retrans talks. Tribune has been in bankruptcy since December of 2008.

“We’re pleased that Tribune and their creditors now recognize that all DirecTV wanted from day one was to pay fair market rates for their channels,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that Tribune was willing to hold our customers hostage in an attempt to extract excessive rates, but in the end we reached a fair deal at market rates similar to what we originally agreed to on March 29...

“Five million American homes blacked out from their local broadcaster cries out for an examination in Washington, D.C. of the decades-old telecom law that encourages these impasses.”

That very telecom law is currently under examination by the FCC. The commission issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on retransmission consent a year ago, collecting around 480 fillings on the docket to date. However, it would prefer that everyone just got along. From the FCC’s Media Bureau Q&A page on retrans consent: “Generally, the FCC is not authorized to participate in discussions between television stations and cable systems regarding retransmission consent agreements.”

Retransmission itself refers to the carriage of broadcast TV signals by cable and satellite operators, who must have express permission to do so from broadcasters. Retrans negotiations have become so contentious in recent years that lawmakers on Capitol Hill have called for reform. Cable and satellite operators want the FCC to prohibit TV stations from pulling signals when talks break down. The commission isn’t anxious to do so.

“We do not believe that the commission has authority to adopt either interim carriage mechanisms or mandatory binding dispute resolution procedures applicable to retransmission consent negotiations,” the NPRM states.
~ Deborah D. McAdams

April 2, 2012:“DirecTV Charges Tribune With Violating ‘Good Faith’ Rules”
DirecTV’s complaint said it’s seeking an “immediate intervention and expedited ruling against Tribune for failing to negotiate in good faith,” as required by FCC rules. The satellite TV provider took its argument a step further, however, by charging that Tribune’s creditors stepped in to squeeze more money out of the deal.

March 3, 2011:
“FCC Retrans Proposal Includes Elimination of Non-Dupe Rule”
Among other things, the commission proposes to do away with the network non-duplication and syndication exclusivity rules. This would allow cable operators to carry an out-of-market TV station should an in-market affiliate pull its signal in a retransmission stand-off.