Spectrum customers lose access to Tribune stations as carriage negotiations continue

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An online stream of KTLA is made unavailable during an ongoing dispute between Tribune Media and Charter Communications, which operates Spectrum TV (Image: The Desk)

Tribune Media has pulled several stations from Charter Communications-owned Spectrum TV following a temporary reprieve during negotiations over retransmission rights.

The agreement, which covered local stations and WGN America, expired on January 1, but Tribune agreed to extend carriage on Charter/Spectrum until Wednesday afternoon. With no deal reached, Tribune Media ordered the stations be removed from Charter/Spectrum systems.

In a message aired to Charter/Spectrum customers, the cable giant — which, in some areas, previously operated as Time Warner Cable — said Tribune’s decision revolved over fees paid in exchange for the rights to air CBS and FOX programming on some stations. KSWB (Channel 69), a FOX station in San Diego, is one of the channels impacted by the blackout.

The issue also impacts stations in major markets that are not affiliated with either network, including CW affiliates KTLA (Channel 5) in Los Angeles and WPIX (Channel 11) in New York.

“We’re extremely disappointed that we do not have an agreement on the renewal of our contract with Spectrum,” a Tribune Media executive said in a statement. “The NFL playoffs are in jeopardy — beginning this weekend with critical games in some key markets like Indianapolis and Seattle. We don’t want Spectrum subscribers to miss these games.”

Charter/Spectrum subscribers in Seattle won’t miss games aired on Tribune Media-owned FOX station KCPQ (Channel 13) because Charter/Spectrum doesn’t operate in Seattle (Comcast is the cable provider there). Two communities miles away from Seattle are serviced by Charter/Spectrum, but it isn’t clear how many households the cable company serves there.

Retransmission agreements are not unusual in the cable television industry, and local and national programmers have depended on them as a way to supplement earnings over the last few years. But what used to be an exception has quickly become the norm, with blackouts impacting almost all of the major cable and satellite services in one way or another over the last 10 years, many of them centered on retransmission disputes.

Dish Network customers have been without HBO programming for weeks after talks between Dish and Time Warner parent company AT&T failed to result in an agreement. The breakdown in negotiations also impacted HBO’s sister network Cinemax, and caused both multiplex channels to be yanked from both Dish’s satellite service and its streaming offering Sling TV (Sling was the first service to offer HBO as a standalone online product. The service launched before Time Warner was acquired by AT&T, which also owns Dish competitor DirecTV).

Customers of smaller cable operators have also been the victim of retransmission disputes. In Indiana and Tennessee, subscribers of TDS Cable have lost access to several Nexstar local channels after the programmer demanded more money in exchange for retransmission rights there.

Disputes are usually resolved after a short amount of time (the Dish Network case being an interesting exception). Often, they are resolved without much information about fee increases, though in the case of TDS Cable, the service provider has been upfront about its offer to pay more in exchange for the channels.

“We have given Nexstar our best offer—one that we consider a reasonable increase,” TDS Cable said in a statement. “Nexstar, however, is continuing to demand rates that are well outside industry norms. These rates, up to a 129% increase, would necessarily and unduly impact customer bills as we would be unable to absorb all of these extra costs.”

Nexstar, which is currently working to close a $6,4 billion deal for Tribune Media’s 33 stations during that company’s ongoing dispute with Charter/Spectrum, accused TDS of “unrealistic proposals and outright delay” with respect to its ongoing negotiations.