DirecTV, Tribune Near Retrans Deal


DirecTV was inching closer to a
retransmission-consent deal with Tribune Co.’s 16
television stations across the country at press time,
hoping to avert a blackout that threatened to leave the
stations dark in some of the top television markets in
the country.

According to DirecTV, both sides were deep into
negotiations last Friday afternoon (March 30), with
the hopes that a deal could be worked out before the
midnight March 31 deadline.

DirecTV and Tribune had been at an impasse for
a week leading up to the deadline. Tribune owns
23 stations across the country, but the dispute involved
its national cable network (WGN America)
and 16 broadcast properties, including independent
stations and Fox, ABC and The CW affiliates
in major markets such as New York (WPIX-TV),
Chicago (WGN-TV), Los Angeles (KTLA-TV), Denver
(KWGN-TV), Philadelphia (WPHL-TV) and New
Orleans (WGNO-TV).

The dispute was a little different than typical retrans
scuffles in that Tribune claimed it was the
first time the broadcaster had asked for cash compensation
from the satellite giant. Although it has
charged affiliate fees for WGN America, those fees
also included compensation for the stations, according
to some reports in the past.

Carving out fees for the individual stations
probably became more important in the past several
years since Tribune filed for bankruptcy protection
in 2008. Tribune has sold off some assets
as it winds through that process — including its
interests in Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs
and some newspapers like Newsday in the New
York market.

While Tribune has said the TV stations will form
the core of the company upon its successful emergence
from bankruptcy protection, having cash retransmission-
consent deals in place will only add
to the stations’ value.

The negotiations come as opening day of the Major
League Baseball regular season approaches on
April 5.

Several Tribune stations carry MLB games, including
WPIX-TV (New York Mets), WGN-TV (Cubs
and White Sox) and WPHL (Philadelphia Phillies).