Nexstar channels go dark on DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse

The logo of AT&T. (Photo: Handout)

Another day, another carriage dispute.

This time, DirecTV customers across the country have lost access to their ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox stations due to a contract dispute between DirecTV parent company AT&T and Nexstar Media Group.

In California, DirecTV customers in Fresno and Bakersfield have lost access to two local stations, while news watchers in San Francisco are unable to view MyNetwork affiliate KRON-TV (Channel 4).

The blackout also affects AT&T’s streaming service DirecTV Now and AT&T U-Verse television. Customers in 97 television markets have collectively lost access to over 120 local stations, according to dual statements issued by the company over the July 4 holiday.

In a statement, AT&T said it offered Nexstar “more money” to keep the channels available to customers. AT&T blames Nexstar for the sudden blackout; Nexstar says AT&T is at fault.

“The development is highly unusual for Nexstar but far more common for DIRECTV/AT&T,” Nexstar said in a press release. “Nexstar has been negotiating in good faith to establish a mutually agreeable contract with DIRECTV. Significantly, Nexstar has offered DIRECTV the same rates it offered to other large distribution partners with whom it completed successful negotiations with in 2019 to date.”

Nexstar said AT&T “misled Nexstar as it requested that viewers not be informed about the pending expiration as long as negotiations were continuing to be constructive.” The company said it offered an extension to August 2nd as the two companies continued to negotiate, but AT&T did not accept this offer.

AT&T paints a different picture, saying Nexstar is employing a tough-guy negotiating tactic that it has used before.

“Nexstar pulls or threatens to pull their stations from the customers of TV providers to increase fees for stations far beyond their value,” an AT&T press release said. “They’ve done it to Cox Cable, Dish [Network], and Charter Spectrum, and now they’re doing it to us.”

“By asking us to pay even for viewers who choose to receive Nexstar stations for free over the air or through other means, Nexstar is also reducing consumer choice,” AT&T said.

One of those other options may be Locast, a not-for-profit streaming TV service available in about a dozen local markets. AT&T recently made a $500,000 donation to Locast and made the service available as an “app” on DirecTV and U-Verse hardware as an alternative to watching local TV channels, a move some analysts said could be meant to give the pay television company the upper hand in negotiations for carriage with broadcasters.

For Nexstar, the timing could not be worse: The broadcaster is currently seeking approval to acquire with Tribune Company, a merger that would create the largest broadcast operation in the country — a point not lost on AT&T.

“For a company seeking to become the largest broadcaster in America, this is behavior that should not be rewarded,” AT&T said.

AT&T said most carriage disputes “are often resolved quickly” and said it hoped to have channels restored “as soon as possible.”