Tribune pulls signals from DirecTV



Seems like a cruel April Fools’ prank to play on your viewers.

It seemed DirecTV had a deal with Tribune Broadcasting – owner of WGN-TV in Chicago and WGN America, with a new retransmission deal.

Or so we thought.

DirecTV announced a deal Saturday stating it reached an agreement with Tribune two days earlier to compensate them for transmitting their signals over their systems in 16 markets (including Chicago) and WGN America nationwide. Earlier this week, Tribune went public about its dispute with DirecTV over carriage fees.

But then something strange happened. Tribune denied any deal took place, and slammed DirecTV in a press release, saying the company came to no deal, and stated the DirecTV press release was misleading.

Later in the afternoon, DirecTV fired back, blaming Tribune’s alleged “about face” on their bankruptcy woes, accusing them of bad faith, and focusing “on unduly benefiting their creditors rather than viewers. Threatening station blackouts to extract an exorbitant fee for all of Tribune’s content may provide an improved return for certain banks and hedge funds, but is not in the interest of its viewers and is not a cure for bankruptcy. ”


And so, what turned out to be a deal now isn’t. And Tribune has now pulled their signals from DirecTV, meaning subscribers have lost programming ranging from Gossip Girl and Desperate Housewives to Family Guy and The Simpsons, and sports.

But it may not be as bad as it sounds.

While news, sports, and some first-run syndicated daytime fare certainly would be affected (especially fans of Chicago baseball), keep in mind that 75 percent of the fare Tribune carries can be found somewhere else, though the percentage varies market-to-market. Missing Big Bang Theory reruns in Philadelphia? Simple, flip to TBS. Can’t see The Vampire Diaries? Watch it online or on Hulu. Full episodes of Jerry Springer are available online at’s website. And don’t forget DVDs and iTunes downloads, if you have the money to buy them.

The effect of the Tribune-DirecTV spat could have some implications however – especially for syndicated series and The CW. Since Tribune’s stations are in the largest markets, some fare the group carries – including Maury, Family Guy, and Two And A Half Men – could be impacted in the ratings. CW – already struggling with miniscule ratings – could find itself with even fewer viewers since Tribune owns sixteen stations.

Not surprisingly, many viewers are blaming DirecTV are blaming the satellite provider for taking the Tribune stations off – apparently the Tribune smear campaign against DirecTV seemed to have worked. But the real blame should rely with Tribune itself. What the company won’t tell you is the company did come to an agreement Thursday – then reneged on it – and Tribune is out there blaming DirecTV for the impasse, the one company negotiating in good faith. If you think cable companies are bad, think again – broadcasters – such as Tribune, Sinclair Broadcasting, and Nexstar Broadcasting are even worse when it comes to slimy negotiating tactics.

And if you have another cable or satellite provider – don’t laugh – this could happen to you, too. Tribune will likely make the same demands to other MSOs when their contracts expire. If MSOs cave in (and they will), cable and satellite bills will skyrocket, and they’re expensive enough as it is.

And we all know Tribune has been mired in bankruptcy for the last four years and is looking to get any penny it can squeeze from suppliers (after all, someone must pay for that mega Two And A Half Men off-net renewal deal.) These Randy Michaels stooges still running the company don’t seem to have a clue on how to negotiate. They’re acting more like politicians rather than distinguished businessman.

Tribune owes its viewers a real explanation on why their signals were pulled from DirecTV, not some bullshit press release. And speaking of the subscribers: either way, they lose: if DirecTV caves, Tribune wins, and the rates will likely go up to pay for this. If they don’t, Tribune programming stays off their system.

Talk about a Catch 22. Regardless, the viewer gets the short end of the stick.

And thus, here’s DirecTV’s new, modified slogan: Don’t Just Watch TV, DirecTV. But you won’t be watching WGN. And you’ll still be acting out scenes from Platoon with Charlie Sheen. That’s not winning.

(Editor’s note: the photo above was taken by yours truly at the 2012 Chicago Auto Show.)