News

DirecTV: Game On Amid Retrans Spat

1/23/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

In a new wrinkle in the retransmission consent
arena, Sunbeam Television said it would let Direc-
TV carry its Miami station’s coverage of the National Football
League’s NFC title matchup between the New York Giants and
San Francisco 49ers this past Sunday (Jan. 22).

That’s even as the two sides remained deadlocked in a fight
over retrans fees. Sunbeam pulled Miami’s WSVN, the local
Fox affiliate, along with Boston’s WHDH (NBC) and WLVI
(The CW) stations from
DirecTV at midnight on
Friday, Jan. 13.

DirecTV said the station
owner is asking
for a 300% hike, while
Sunbeam has said it is
seeking only what other
operators pay. As of
press time last Friday, the
standoff had not been resolved.

That Sunbeam offered
its highest-rated programming
to DirecTV
in the absence of a deal
— typically withheld as
a bargaining chip — underscores
the importance it
is placing on winning the retrans battle in the court of public
opinion.

“WSVN-TV is still negotiating with DirecTV, but we care
about our viewers, and we want them to be able to watch this
game, which will determine who goes to the Super Bowl,” Robert
Leider, executive vice president and general manager of
WSVN, said in a statement.

WSVN also would have potentially lost ratings points
in the high-profile NFL game without DirecTV, which
counts about 270,000 subscribers in Miami-Dade and Broward
counties. The No. 1 satellite operator has more than
200,000 subs in the Boston area.

“We’re pleased that Sunbeam is doing the right thing for
our customers and NFL fans in Miami,” DirecTV spokesman
Robert Mercer said. “We look forward to getting a deal done
quickly and on reasonable terms.”

DirecTV’s Miami customers — which include bar owners
that rely on sporting events to draw in patrons — were set to
be able to tune in to Fox’s coverage of the NFC championship
game starting with the pregame show at 6 p.m. Eastern. WSVN
also provided the post-game show, American Idol and a late
edition of its 7 News telecast that night.

Meanwhile, DirecTV’s Boston-area DirecTV subs could be
facing a blackout of NBC’s Super Bowl XLVI telecast on Feb. 5,
in which the Patriots could be playing for their fourth championship
title, if the dispute is not resolved by then. Leider
would not say if Sunbeam would allow the satellite operator to
carry the Super Bowl in the event a deal isn’t reached by then.

Leider said DirecTV’s claim that Sunbeam is asking for a
300% increase is “totally misleading.”

“A few years ago, DirecTV was paying us nothing. Now we
are asking for only a few cents a day,” he said. “Fox receives
half of that, and we need to keep them satisfi ed to maintain
our affiliate relationship.
Meanwhile, cable
channels with far less
viewers receive far more
compensation from
DirecTV.”

Leider added: “Direc-
TV is a multibillion-dollar
company that takes
advantage of a small
company like ours. DirecTV
is offering us far
less than what they are
paying other TV stations.”

In 2012, DirecTV is
raising rates an average
of 4%, effective Feb.
9, while it claims that its
programming costs will climb about 10%.

“There is always one outlier, like Sunbeam, who has no problem
committing an unthinkable abuse of the public trust in an
effort to shake down an excessive financial arrangement for
themselves,” DirecTV executive vice president of programming
Derek Chang said in a statement.

The satellite operator said that over the past 12 months,
DirecTV has achieved “fair and equitable agreements” with
more than 70 local station owners representing hundreds of
different TV channels, including stations in Boston and Miami,
without any programming disruptions. More than 20 of
those agreements came within the past several weeks, according
to DirecTV.

September