Tribune, DirecTV in dispute





Here we go again: yet another broadcaster-MSO dispute – only this time, Chicago baseball and Vampire Diaries fans (wow, there’s an odd combo) may be left in the lurch.

Tribune Broadcasting and DirecTV are in a retrans dispute and if a deal isn’t reached by March 31, Tribune’s 24 stations across eighteen markets – including WGN-TV in Chicago and WGN America – could be yanked off the system.

If this move were to happen, WGN viewers would lose Bulls and Blackhawks games and that ever-so-popular CW primetime fare. The impasse also threatens Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox games with Opening Day right around the corner (WGN Sports-produced broadcasts on Weigel’s WCIU would not be affected.)

DirecTV viewers would also lose Fox fare in markets like Seattle, Indianapolis, and San Diego, while New Orleans viewers would lose both ABC (and CW) programming.

The possible blackout may have ramifications for the already struggling CW, since Tribune owns fourteen of their affiliates – many of them in the nation’s largest markets such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas (two CW affiliates are operated by Local TV LLC, but owned by Tribune.)

In a carefully worded press release, Tribune claims DirecTV has never compensated them for carriage of their signal as the MSO has provided comp for other station groups for the last decade.

This battle is the latest between station groups and cable and satellite operators (also known as MSOs- multiple system operators) as broadcasters are seeking more cash as the recession has battered ad revenues and network compensation has been cut. Tribune Broadcasting’s parent is still mired in Chapter 11 bankruptcy and basically trying to grab as much cash as they can get.

Tribune is taking to the streets letting DirecTV subscribers know their stations could be pulled. The broadcaster launched a new website ( and has information on how viewers can tell DirecTV to keep their shows. For example, WGN is telling its viewers to call 1-855-GETWGN9 (1-855-438-9469) and let DirecTV know their shows want to be kept.

Despite these threats, recent trends show these types of deadlines are either extended at the last minute or an agreement is reached in the nick of time. Recent broadcaster-MSOs spats between Belo and DirecTV and between News Corp. and Echostar (owners of Dish Network) were solved without the stations being pulled. If the stations are pulled, its usually for a few hours: in March 2010, a dispute between Cablevision and ABC-owned WABC-TV in New York forced the station to pull its signal on the day of the Academy Awards, only to reappear minutes into the show.