DirecTV, Fox headed toward retrans showdown

Packers-Bears, FIFA World Cup, and more could be affected

For Chicago-area DirecTV subscribers, the possibility of losing the Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears game from Soldier Field Sunday probably would be a bigger deal if Justin Fields wasn’t questionable to play and both teams had better records. 

But since the FIFA World Cup and the Big Ten Championship Game are on the same network this coming week, then…yeah, that’s a problem. 

On Sunday, Fox Corporation warned DirecTV, DirecTV Stream, and U-Verse customers they may lose their channels at the end on the day December 2 if they don’t come to a retrans agreement. The channels in question are Fox, FS1, FS2, Fox Deportes, Big Ten Network, and all 28 Fox owned-and-operated stations including WFLD-TV and WPWR-TV, known as Fox 32 and My50, respectively. Fox News and Fox Business are on separate deals, so they are not affected. 

DirecTV carved out a channel warning viewers of the possible blackout Sunday night:

Once fully-owned by AT&T, DirecTV is now jointly owned by the telecommunications giant and private equity firm TPG, who has a 30 percent stake. Fox Corporation was formed after much of the original 21st Century Fox was sold to Disney in 2019. 

The impact is big given Fox owns stations in most large markets, including nine out of the top ten including the big three of Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Fox has the NFC package and own stations in all but three cities where the teams play (for clarification purposes, Fox doesn’t own a station in Green Bay but does so down the road in Milwaukee, where the Packers are phenomenally popular.) The Packers-Bears game Sunday is a huge ratings draw, regardless of the records of each team.

Also possibly affected is the FIFA World Cup tournament, as matches are airing on Fox and FS1. A blackout could be devasting for some bar owners who carry DirecTV as they could lose foot traffic if they won’t be able to show the game. Fox is also carrying the Big Ten Championship Game Saturday night featuring Purdue and second-ranked Michigan, who is based in the Detroit area where Fox owns WJBK-TV. 

“Despite our best efforts for months, we regret that DirecTV continues to demand unprecedented special treatment that represents a wholesale change to our long-standing relationship and is out of step with marketplace terms,” Fox said in a statement. “While Fox continues to seek an agreement benefiting all parties, our priority is ensuring viewers’ ability to access all Fox Sports, Fox Entertainment and local Fox station programming.”

DirecTV rebuttaled in their statement, accusing Fox of “the same old, tired programmer scare tactics of putting customers into the middle of contract renewals tend to die hard.”

This latest dust-up comes as more and more of these blackouts are becoming common, and now broadcasters are willing to have these disruptions during times of the year where sporting events such as the NFL, and this year, the World Cup are taking place as these events give broadcasters leverage. For Chicago DirecTV viewers, the last major blackout of a local Tv station was in July 2019 when the then-CBS Corporation pulled their signals from DirecTV including CBS-owned WBBM-TV here in a dispute lasting several weeks, costing the station ratings points. Disney and DirecTV averted a blackout the same year

DirecTV and the former Tribune Media also had a retrans dispute in 2012, knocking WGN-TV off local systems. 

Fox also recently had disputes with other distributors including NCTC, Altice, and Roku, but came to an agreement without pulling signals. In September 2019, Fox (when it was known as 21st Century Fox) had a dispute with Dish, pulling their channels for several days. 


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