DirecTV, Sinclair Retrans Battle Smolders

Stations in 47 Markets Face Blackouts on Feb. 28

Sinclair Broadcast Group and DirecTV are girding for a retransmission consent battle in 47 markets across the country, with the station group informing its viewers that they could lose access to their favorite shows if a deal is not reached by the end of the month.

About 87 Sinclair stations in 47 markets like Baltimore, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City are up for renewal on Feb. 28. The stations include affiliates of all four major broadcast networks – ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, and have been informing viewers that they no longer expect their stations to be carried by DirecTV after their current agreement expires at 11:59 p.m.on Feb. 28. On its station websites, Sinclair tells DirecTV subscribers they can still view their programming if they switch to Dish Network or the local cable or telco video operator.

DirecTV in a statement accused Sinclair of trying to scare customers.

“We’re engaged in productive discussions with Sinclair Broadcast Group to retain their local stations in the DirecTV line-up,” the satellite giant said in a statement. “Our customers can be assured that neither DirecTV nor Sinclair has any intention of allowing the disruption of their local stations. These are the same unnecessary threats, posing as warnings that Sinclair has made to frighten customers of other pay TV providers.”

DirecTV added that it is willing to compensate Sinclair fairly, but not at more than twice the going rate.

While DirecTV and Sinclair circle the wagons, the nations’ second largest satellite TV operator, Dish Network, is in the middle of a dispute with Grant Broadcasting, which owns about four Fox affiliates in Eau Claire, Wis., Davenport, Ia., Huntsville, Ala., and Roanoke, Va.

Those stations went dark to Dish subscribers Feb. 15 after the companies could not reach an agreement.

In a statement on its Eau Claire station website, Grant claims that it has offered to allow Dish to continue to carry the station while it works out the details of an agreement. Dish, the station said, has declined.

“However, Dish continues to not answer our phone calls or meet with our negotiating team, dragging out the process at their own pace. Dish has and has always had—our full permission to air all our stations at no additional cost to them at any time they choose, even during contract negotiations. We were just as surprised as our viewers when Dish pulled our stations from their air. The decision to do so was a decision Dish made, and theirs alone.”

Dish said in a statement that despite its efforts to negotiate a new deal, the parties still have not reached an agreement. The satellite giant noted that because it does not have a contract with Grant Communications, it cannot legally carry its signals.

The two sides are at an impasse over price -- Dish claims Grant is demanding proces well beyond market rates while Grant counters that it is charging Dish the same it has other distributors. 

"We are disappointed that Grant has chosen to be unreasonable in its demands, as many Dish customers in the Grant markets enjoy their Fox programming," said Dish director of programming Sruta Vootukuru in a statement. "Grant's request that Dish pay three times what it paid just over a year ago is well beyond market rates, and we hope Grant will become more reasonable so we can make these channels available to our customers."