Disney, DirecTV the latest to battle over retransmission consent

Companies upping ante in retrans dispute; ABC 7 could be off DirecTV by Saturday 

The latest entity to go toe-to-toe with a satellite and cable provider is the biggest name in cable: ESPN. And it could take Chicago’s most-watched TV station down with it.

In a carefully orchestrated move, ESPN on its bottom score ticker alerted viewers about the potential loss of the network and several other Disney-owned channels and urged viewers to call a toll-free number to “keep ESPN” during its Monday Night Football telecast. Later, ESPN aired ads alarming viewers they could lose not only The Worldwide Leader In Sports and related channels, but also the Disney Channel networks and Freeform.

There was some confusion as the message didn’t specify which cable or satellite carrier, but later became clear who it was… DirecTV (I saw the message as I’m a DirecTV customer.) The commercial nor the ticker message did not specify a date, although it is likely very soon – perhaps as early as September 15. Typically these types of threats are announced with just days left to go before the signals are scheduled to be yanked in hopes to land a deal.

In addition to those aforementioned cable nets, the threat also extends to ABC’s eight owned-and-operated stations in the nation’s largest markets, including ABC 7 (WLS-TV) here in Chicago, not to mention WABC in New York and KABC in Los Angeles. Other cities include Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Raleigh-Durham, and Fresno-Visalia, Ca. This was confirmed via tweet from ABC-owned KGO in San Francisco:

The tweet contains a link to a website explaining their side of the story. ESPN, the ABC O&Os, Freeform and Disney Channels are all corporate cousins through The Walt Disney Co. The potential impasse does not affect channels recently acquired from 21st Century Fox, including FX, National Geographic, and FXX. ABC affiliates not owned by the network (such as Milwaukee’s WISN and Rockford’s WTVO) are also not affected.

A message aired on ABC 7 during Jeopardy! Tuesday afternoon, a slightly different one from the one ESPN aired last night, emphasizing ABC 7’s Eyewitness News. As of this writing, there is no mention of the possible impasse on the station’s website or social media accounts.

This comes after CBS pulled its signals of its owned-and-operated stations (including WBBM-TV) off of DirecTV earlier this summer in an impasse lasting for nearly three weeks. As a result, ratings for WBBM plunged – even though CBS itself wasn’t affected much as national ratings for its programming remained solid.

But now it appears the ante has been upped. For one, ESPN is the most-watched cable network outside of the cable news networks. It is also one of the most expensive on a per-subscriber basis. And unlike most of the CBS O&Os, ABC’s owned stations are either the top-rated or second-rated stations in their markets including Chicago, where ABC 7 is the market’s most-watched station with the most-watched newscasts.

And it is football season, as ESPN airs Monday Night Football and lots of college football games. And the new TV season begins in two weeks while new seasons for Jeopardy!, Wheel Of Fortune, Live With Kelly and Ryan, Inside Edition, and Rachael Ray began Monday, including the premiere of Disney/ABC’s new Tamron Hall daytime talk show (seen locally here on WCIU.) These shows air on most, if not all ABC-owned stations.

In addition, ABC 7 has a few Cubs games left on its schedule this month as the team is in the midst of a pennant (or playoff) race.

Recently, DirecTV resolved its impasse with future WGN-TV owner Nexstar, but rival Dish is still embroiled in a dispute with Meredith-owned TV stations. And regional sports network Altitude (home to the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche) pulled its signals from Comcast, Dish, and DirecTV in a similar dispute last week, costing it much of its distribution.

The satellite providers both claim they are “on the side of the viewers” in these disputes as they are trying to keep our invoices low, as we know is a big heaping of bullshit as DirecTV’s new parent AT&T is slashing costs to pay down debt incurred by the acquisition of TimeWarner earlier this year.

And besides, they’re not keeping us from other factors raising our cable/satellite bills, such as the city of Chicago and Cook County raising the cable TV tax any chance they get.

You can use the same old tired cliche line it’s just billionaire corporations fighting with billionaire corporations using viewers as pawns. But it’s more than that. Now it appears DirecTV and Dish are more than willing to risk losing customers for life – not to mention hurting those who advertise on Disney-owned local stations and networks in the process. Unless Congress steps in (you can forget it since their priorities are obviously everywhere), this nonsense is going to continue.

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