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Frontier And DirecTV Subs See Service Disruptions From Retrans Disputes

Deadline logo Deadline 1/2/2017 David Lieberman
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UPDATE. 1:55 PM: Frontier Communications subscribers may have to live without Sinclair Broadcasting stations and the Tennis Channel for a while — maybe a long while. “There are no negotiations going on, and I have no expectations for any future negotiations,” Sinclair EVP of Distribution and Network Relations Barry Faber says.

The problem? “We’re so far apart on the price” that Frontier should pay, Faber adds. The cable company had a low rate with Fisher Communications, which owned about 20 stations — including ABC affiliates in Seattle and Portland, OR — until Sinclair bought them in 2013.

Now Sinclair want a price that’s “consistent with what we charge other operators.”

PREVIOUS: New Year’s Day typically comes with several service disruptions for pay TV customers as retransmission contracts expire without new ones in place — and 2017 is no exception: Subscribers to Frontier Communications, DirecTV, Cable One and Suddenlink systems lost some services due to negotiation impasses.

Frontier lost access to Sinclair Broadcasting stations including ABC affiliates in Seattle and Portland, OR, as well as cable’s Tennis Channel. Both sides warned Frontier customers that they expected they’d fail to agree, mostly over how much the cable company should pay for the programming services.

SVP Video Steve Ward said Frontier, which serves about 1.5 million video subscribers, “cannot accept” Sinclair’s terms that “have included excessive rate increases of no less than 80% and as far reaching as 380% as well as the inclusion of channels that the majority of our customers do not want.”

Sinclair EVP, Distribution & Network Relations Barry Faber countered that the broadcaster has “successfully negotiated carriage for our ABC stations with all other video providers in these markets and secured coverage for Tennis in all of our recent retransmission negotiations.”

He added that the loss of Frontier won’t have a “material impact” on the stations: The video provider accounts for “less than 3% of the total households in each of Seattle and Portland. The expected loss of Tennis Channel subscribers is similarly small.”

Meanwhile, AT&T’s DirecTV lost 33 Hearst Television stations — but quickly resolved a dispute involving 15 owned by Cox Media.

Hearst says on the WCVB Boston website that it has “made significant investments to deliver top tier programming to our viewers and DirecTV is seeking the right to carry our stations at below market rates, which is neither fair nor reasonable.”

DirecTV blames the broadcaster for “preventing its local signals from reaching DirecTV customers’ homes in 26 different cities unless Hearst receives a significant increase in fees just to allow those same families to watch shows available for free over-the-air and that the broadcast networks typically make available for free online and through new digital apps.”

In addition, Cable One customers lost Northwest Broadcasting stations including ABC, CBS. Fox and NBC affiliates in Grenada and Cleveland, MS.

And Suddenlink lost the ABC affiliate in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, ID, owned by Morgan Murphy Media.

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