CBS, AT&T involved in negotiations; blackout looms

A message from DirecTV stating if CBS doesn’t come to an agreement with AT&T by Friday, they could pull their signal from DirecTV and U-Verse.

July 19 is deadline

In what could be the biggest retrans showdown yet, CBS on Tuesday afternoon warned of a looming blackout for AT&T customers for this coming Friday, including those who subscribe to DirecTV, U-Verse, and the DirecTV Now streaming service.

This is big because CBS is one of the nation’s largest broadcasters, and own stations in almost all of the ten largest markets, including CBS-owned WBBM-TV here in Chicago. CBS-owned stations facing blackout in addition to Chicago include those in New York City; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; Dallas-Ft. Worth; the Bay Area consisting of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose; Boston, Detroit; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Miami; Denver; Sacramento; Pittsburgh; and Baltimore. In some of these markets, the affected includes CBS and CW affiliates the network owns (ironically, CBS is part-owner of The CW, with AT&T’s WarnerMedia owning the other half.)

CBS also owns stand-alone CW affiliates in Atlanta, Tampa-St. Petersburg, and Seattle, but not the CBS stations in those markets. Other CBS-owned channels involved are CBS Sports Network, Pop, and Smithsonian Channel.

As far as Chicago is concerned, a blackout could be tough for WBBM; some viewers already have trouble receiving the station’s over-the-air signal via antenna. The impact on WBBM’s ratings could be substantial: CBS 2 is the least-watched network-owned station in the market. Meanwhile, CBS could lose substantial viewership nationally.

AT&T is already fighting with Nexstar over retransmission consent money; the company’s 100-plus television stations have been blacked out on DirecTV and U-Verse since July 3 as Nexstar is in the process of acquiring Tribune Media, owner of WGN-TV. In fact, the last major retransmission tussle in the Chicago area was in 2012, with Tribune and DirecTV (before they were acquired by AT&T) going it at, knocking WGN off the air and returning three days later.

The last major dustup between the networks and distributors in large markets was in 2013, when CBS pulled their channels off of TimeWarner Cable systems.

While these deadlines aren’t really etched in stone – given in the past we’ve seen extensions, there is a different feeling about the latest impasse as AT&T argues broadcasters are being too greedy. “Broadcast stations are the incumbents to our industry, and many feel they deserve certain entitlements. They continue to give their signals away for free but also demand unsustainably growing fees for allowing customers the convenience of receiving their channels in a usual program guide or without switching an input,” the company said in a statement.

But retransmission consent – what cable and satellite companies pay local stations to carry their signals is something the latter have increasingly become dependent on as ratings drop and advertising revenue continues to decrease. And this comes as cable and satellite continue to lose subscribers as prices continue to rise.

With AT&T telling CBS viewers to use a free preview of CBS’ All Access streaming service among other alternatives listed in the photo above, it looks like fans of CBS programming won’t have their shows available on AT&T services – that is, until the NFL season begins.


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