Tribune Media television station WHNT Channel 19 in Huntsville remained off the air Saturday on Charter Communications’ Spectrum cable-TV service in Decatur because the two companies failed to reach agreement on a new distribution deal.
WHNT, a CBS affiliate, is one of nearly three dozen Tribune stations nationwide that became unavailable on Spectrum cable last week. If the standoff continues today, the NFL playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore Ravens wouldn’t be available on Charter Spectrum cable in Decatur. Former Decatur resident Philip Rivers, who played at Athens High, is the starting quarterback for the Chargers.
Viewers will still be able to see programming from Tribune Media’s local stations if they have a digital antenna. Charter spokeswoman Patti Michel said Friday that all NFL games are free on both the NFL Mobile app and Yahoo Sports app.
Customers in more than 6 million Charter Spectrum cable TV homes nationwide were swept up in the latest fee dispute between two major TV companies. The two sides have spent two weeks in a tense standoff over Tribune Media’s proposed fee increase for the right to carry the company’s programming as part of the Spectrum pay-TV packages.
The companies’ previous distribution contract expired at 9 p.m. Monday, but the two sides agreed to a short-term extension to bridge the New Year’s holiday and give themselves time to work out a new deal. But that extension expired Wednesday.
In recent years, TV station blackouts have become more common as pay-TV distributors, including Charter, struggle to rein in programming costs and negotiations over carriage deals become more contentious.
In this case, Tribune Media has been demanding that Charter pay higher fees for the rights to retransmit the signals of 33 Tribune TV stations in Charter Spectrum markets.
Michel said, "Tribune is demanding an increase of more than double what we pay today for the same programming."
Charter has more on the issue at getthefactsabouttribune.com.
WHNT posted this statement on its website: "We sincerely regret that Spectrum has forced WHNT off your cable package, and we share your frustration. Our parent company Tribune Media worked diligently to prevent this interruption, and their work continues to ensure the return of WHNT as soon as possible ... but this also requires Spectrum to work just as hard."
WHNT has more on the issue at keepmystation.com/whnt.
The showdown comes at a troubled time for the pay-TV industry. Like other cable operators, Charter has been struggling to control programming costs in an effort to staunch a migration of customers to lower-cost streaming services. Pay-TV operators had a bruising year in 2018, with the industry projected to lose 1.1 million customers, including more than 200,000 cable TV subscribers from Charter, according to recent estimates from MoffettNathanson Research.
Spectrum is the brand name for Charter’s pay-TV, internet and phone service.
There were about 140 television blackouts in 2018. An impasse between Verizon Communications Inc. and TV broadcaster Tegna Inc. resulted in an outage Monday of network affiliate stations in Washington, D.C., Norfolk, Va., and Buffalo, N.Y. on Verizon FiOS systems.
Blackouts in 2018 were down from a record 213 outages in 2017, according to the American Television Alliance, a Washington lobbying group that represents pay-TV operators.
The conflict is over so-called retransmission fees — the money that cable, satellite TV and telephone companies must pay to broadcast local TV station signals as part of their channel lineups. Television station owners in 2018 collected a combined $10 billion in such fees, up from $9.3 billion in 2017, according to the alliance.