Fox Warns Viewers of Potential DirecTV Blackout

DirecTV
(Image credit: DirecTV)

In the latest battle over retransmission agreements, Fox warned its viewers over the weekend that DirecTV subscribers could lose access to 26 Fox local affiliates and its sports networks if the two don’t reach an agreement by the time their contract expires at midnight, Dec. 2. The blackout would not affect Fox News and Fox Business News. 

“Despite our best efforts for months, we regret that DirecTV continues to demand unprecedented special treatment that represents a wholesale change to our long-standing relationship and is out of step with marketplace term,” the company said in a statement, which also began running crawls about the potential blackout across its live programming Sunday night. 

Fox noted that the blackout could occur at the height of the college football and NFL seasons as well as the World Cup, of which Fox Sports is the host broadcaster for the U.S. If an agreement is not reached, viewers of DirecTV’s satellite service and its streaming services, DirecTV Stream and U-Verse, would be impacted.

For its part, DirecTV claimed it was working diligently to prevent such an occurrence. 

“At this point, any interruption of Fox programming depends solely on Fox alone,” DirecTV said in a statement. “DirecTV has no intention to remove any Fox content. The best way for everyone to “Keep Fox” is for Fox to keep making it available themselves. We’re working hard to reach an agreement to renew these Fox stations and national sports channels so customers can continue to enjoy them at a strong value. Based on our excellent track record with Fox, we’re confident we’ll come to terms ahead of any potential disruption. In fact, we’ve renewed nearly 200 local FOX stations much like these over the last few years.

Unfortunately, the same old, tired programmer scare tactics of putting customers into the middle of contract renewals tend to die hard,” the statement continued. “Fox invented this tactic back at the turn of the century, and has a long, long history of aggravating consumers to help try to boost their guaranteed rates, while most renewals are typically resolved without any interruptions.”

The American Television Alliance, a pay-TV advocacy group, condemned Fox for its timely actions, blaming broadcasters of raising retrans fees by more than 1500% since 2010 and accusing the network for making similar recent threats with other distributors like Roku and the National Cable Television Cooperative. 

"During Thanksgiving Weekend, when families are spending time together watching their favorite teams, Fox decided to ruin their day by threatening to cut off their service if their rate increase demands are not met,” said ATVA spokesperson Jessica Kendust. “Fox is using the peak season for their key live sports like college football’s Rivalry Weekend, NFL’s Thanksgiving holiday weekend coverage, and the beginning of World Cup as a weapon to drive up prices for their networks.

“The retransmission consent market should behave like any other market—extraordinary performance will lead to increased compensation—but the opposite is true here,” Kendust added. “Stations continue to lose viewers, and then advertisers, and so they wait until programming is at its short-term peak to threaten or carry out service disruptions. Unfortunately, these tactics will continue until Congress steps in to make much-needed reform to these outdated TV laws.”

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched digitalbroadcasting.com for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (www.tvtech.com), the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.