Perhaps trying to head off some letters from the Hill, AT&T is doing some proactive Hill lobbying on the issue of a potential blackout of CBS stations on its DirecTV and U-Verse platforms, which could happen Friday if a deal is not reached.
That is according to a copy of a letter Multichannel News has obtained over the signature of AT&T EVP of federal relations Tim McKone that was sent to members of Congress Friday.
"As you may have heard, CBS is threatening to take down its stations on DIRECTV, U-verse and DIRECTV Now," McKone said. "This could impact your constituents so I wanted to give you an update on where we stand."
Here is AT&T's pitch to the legislators:
"We have offered CBS the highest rate we currently pay any major broadcast network group. We have offered to market CBS All Access to our millions of customers on their behalf. CBS has rejected all these offers. CBS has a history of blacking out their stations to demand severe price increases. They have done this repeatedly to millions of Dish, Charter and other pay-TV subscribers.
"The problem is that broadcasters, like CBS, demand more money for shows that their viewers — our subscribers — are watching less. In fact, CBS and the other three major networks have already lost more than half their primetime audience in the 18-49-year-old demographic in the past decade. Our customers are fed up with these tactics. They are tired of the endless cycle of price increases and blackouts. They want innovation and better choices. AT&T agrees."
And given that the ongoing Nexstar blackout prompted some Hill ire — aimed at both sides — on the loss of signal to their constituents, McKone outlined the options for its subs:
"Locast: We have added the Locast App to DIRECTV and U-verse video platforms, so customers can stream their local stations. Locast, created by a not-for-profit group, is available to the majority of our affected subscribers. For more information on the app, customers can visit www.locast.org.
"Local Channel Connector Antenna: AT&T has developed a local channel connector that allows customers to access available CBS local broadcast stations through an antenna — for free. Once installed, the station is displayed in the channel guide as before. Any eligible impacted customer can receive an overnight express shipped Local Channel Connector by calling 1-800-531-5000.
"CBS All Access: CBS also makes its shows available via the CBS All Access streaming service, typically with a free preview. Fans of stations affected can watch over the air, at the station websites, often at CBS.com, and typically using the network mobile app."
But AT&T warned those were only stopgap solutions to a bigger issue: "Ultimately, we need to modernize the ’92 Cable Act to reflect today’s video market," McKone said. "AT&T is committed to working with Congress and broadcasters, including CBS, to modernize laws for the benefit of all consumers."