Tribune, Charter impasse over carriage could mean station blackout on January 1

The logo of Tribune Media (Image: Handout)

Update: Tribune Media pulled its stations from Charter/Spectrum on January 2. The company had earlier agreed to extend carriage of its channels on Charter/Spectrum for 41 hours beyond the January 1 deadline.

A contract dispute brewing between Tribune Media and Charter Communications could lead to a programming blackout on some local channels at the start of the new year.

The blackout has the potential to disrupt local network programming for millions of Spectrum TV customers across the country. Charter Communications operates its pay television service under the Spectrum brand, including services once operated by the now-defunct Time Warner Cable.

In early December 2018, Tribune Media stations in dozens markets began notifying viewers that local stations operated by the company could be dropped if Tribune and Charter/Spectrum fail to reach an agreement before their current contract with the cable operator lapses at the end of 2018.

Tribune’s notice was posted on the websites of all of its local broadcast channels, even those serving markets where Charter/Spectrum does not operate.

In all, 33 channels across 24 local markets could be blacked out if Tribune doesn’t reach an agreement with Charter/Spectrum. Those channels include CW affiliates in New York City (WPIX, Channel 11), Los Angeles (KTLA-TV, Channel 5) and Portland, Oregon (KRCW, Channel 32), according to a Charter/Spectrum availability map reviewed by The Desk.  In some markets, Charter/Spectrum is still advertising on Tribune stations — including sponsoring the morning traffic report on KTLA — despite the looming threat of a programming blackout.

A potential blackout would also affect Tribune’s national cable network WGN America in all Charter/Spectrum markets where the channel is carried.

As is usual in carriage disputes, the disagreement between Tribune and Charter/Spectrum boils down to how much the latter is willing to pay the former for rights to retransmit stations.

“We want to reach an agreement with Spectrum,” Tribune executive Gary Weitman said in a statement. “We’ve offered Spectrum fair market rates for our top-rated local news, live sports and high-quality entertainment programming, and similarly fair rates for our cable network, WGN America. Spectrum has refused our offer.”

Tribune says the removal of the stations could affect Charter/Spectrum customers’ ability to watch certain programming carried on local stations, including the Tribune-produced Rose Bowl Parade and sports programming transmitted by national networks.

Charter/Spectrum did not have a statement readily available to The Desk by publication time, but the company told the website Deadline that its negotiations with Tribune are ongoing.

In early December 2018, Charter/Spectrum announced a partnership with the Los Angeles Times newspaper for a program on the company’s newly-launched Spectrum News 1 channel. The Times is owned by Tribune Publishing, which was separated from Tribune Broadcasting in a company spin-off in 2014.