Last week, Tribune Broadcasting sent out a press release warning Charter Spectrum subscribers that they might lose access to Tribune’s stations on January 1 if the two sides weren’t able to come to a new agreement. That’s a big deal considering Tribune owns or operates 43 broadcast television stations across the U.S., many of which are local CBS, Fox, and ABC affiliates who will be showing the NFL playoffs this weekend.
That made Tribune the second broadcaster to use the NFL playoffs as a bargaining chip in as many days. Disney let FiOS customers know the previous day that they might lose access to ESPN and ABC on New Year’s Eve if a new agreement isn’t reached. The two sides reached a new deal a few days ago.
Tribune’s press release was certainly part of their negotiation tactic but it doesn’t appear to have swayed the folks at Spectrum as the two sides did not reach a new arrangement when the new year began. If Spectrum thought Tribune was bluffing, they found out Wednesday that they were not. After a 5:00 p.m. deadline came and went, 33 Tribune Broadcasting TV stations in 24 markets went dark on Charter Spectrum cable systems across the country, per Deadline.
The full list of stations that, for now, will not be available to Spectrum customers includes various ones that do indeed have NFL playoff football scheduled this weekend. They include WJW Cleveland (Fox), KDVR Denver (Fox), WXMI Grand Rapids (Fox), WTIC Hartford (Fox), WGHP High Point (Fox), WHNT Huntsville (CBS), WXIN Indianapolis (Fox), WTTV Indianapolis (CBS), WDAF Kansas City (Fox), WREG Memphis (CBS), WITI Milwaukee (Fox), WGNO New Orleans (CBS), WTKR Norfolk (CBS), WTVR Richmond (CBS), KTXL Sacramento (Fox), KSWB San Diego (Fox), WNEP Scranton (CBS), KCPQ Seattle (Fox), and KTVI St. Louis (Fox).
The full collection of TV stations that went dark affects roughly six million viewers. Tribune’s WGN America is also no longer available to 14 million Spectrum subscribers nationwide.
“We’re extremely disappointed that we do not have an agreement on the renewal of our contract with Spectrum,” Gary Weitman, Tribune Media’s SVP for corporate relations, told Deadline. “We’ve offered Spectrum fair market rates for our top-rated local news, live sports, and high-quality entertainment programming, and similarly fair rates for our cable network, WGN America.”
Charter released a statement as well, calling the situation “unfortunate,” noting that Tribune is “demanding an increase of more than double what we pay today for the same programming. That is more than we pay any other broadcaster. They’re not being reasonable.”
It’s very interesting timing for Tribune, whose parent company is about to be acquired by Nexstar in a $4.1 billion deal. When that happens, Nexstar will become the No. 1 owner of local TV stations in the U.S., surpassing even Sinclair Broadcast Group. Sinclair, it should be noted, tried to buy Tribune last year.
There’s no telling how long the impasse will last. The peril of so many customers missing out on the NFL playoffs might be enough to bring Spectrum to the bargaining table, or they might be willing to let Tribune take the fall and see how long they can sweat it out. In the meantime, paying customers will be the ones to suffer while these media corporations fight over their money and eventually pass on any extra costs to those customers one way or another.