Watching Baseball Iffy for Some DirecTV Subscribers

DirecTV drops WGN over contract dispute

Sunday, Apr 1, 2012  |  Updated 3:40 PM CDT
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Opening Day Iffy for DirecTV Subscribers

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Watching the Cubs' home opener might be tough for DirecTV subscribers.

Note: NBC Chicago's parent company is Comcast, a competitor of DirecTV

As baseball's Opening Day fast approaches, people who are on DirecTV in Chicago might not be able to watch the big game.

That's because the Tribune Company, which owns WGN and quite a few other channels, could not reach a contract agreement with DirecTV by this weekend's deadline. Now, the satellite provider is cutting off WGN's signals -- and that includes many Cubs and White Sox games.

Sunday morning, DirecTV had already stopped carrying WGN in Chicago.  If a deal isn't reached by 1:20 p.m. Thursday, when the Cubs' first pitch is thrown against the Washington Nationals, baseball fans on DirecTV here will definitely take notice. White Sox fans are a bit luckier. Their road opener against the Rangers will be carried on Comcast SportsNet, so DirecTV subscribers should still be able to watch, deal or no deal. But they won't be able to watch the whole series. Saturday night's game is on WGN.

The Tribune Company has said DirecTV subscribers will still be able to watch its broadcast stations with a TV antenna or by signing up with an alternative pay TV provider.

The effects of the contract fight extend much farther than Chicago. In all, 19 TV markets across the country are affected, including New York and Philadelphia. Phillies and Mets fans are in the same boat, too.

The fight between Tribune and DirecTV centers around retransmission fees, which broadcasters can ask satellite and cable companies to pay.

In a statement late Saturday night, Tribune Broadcasting president Nils Larsen called the situation "extremely unfortunate."

"We don't want anyone to lose the valuable programming we provide, but we simply cannot get fair compensation from DirecTV and we cannot allow DirecTV to continue taking advantage of us," Larsen's statement read.

In its own statement, DirecTV said it had hoped Tribune would allow its programming to remain up while negotiations continue. But as it struck midnight in each time U.S. time zone, Tribune channels carried by DirecTV started to be replaced by a message that read, "The owner of this channel has unfortunately forced DirecTV to temporarily remove it from your lineup despite our repeated requests to keep it on.  While we regret their decision, typically disruptions of this sort last a very short time.  Please visit Directvpromise.com for the latest and most accurate information on this station's return."

Earlier, DirecTV said that it had accepted the financial terms that Tribune's management offered it by telephone two days ago. But Tribune came out with its own statement shortly after, saying that it had not reached a deal or come to terms with DirecTV on any aspect of the contract.

DirecTV fired back, saying in another statement that it had a handshake deal with Tribune on Thursday with an agreed upon rate for their channels.

"Their actions are the true definition of 'bad faith' in every sense of the term," DirecTV said.

The satellite television provider also wondered whether Tribune was having difficulty negotiating because of its bankruptcy process.

"Threatening station blackouts to extract an exorbitant fee for all of Tribune's content may provide an improved return for certain banks and hedge funds, but is not in the interest of its viewers and is not a cure for bankruptcy," DirectTV said.

Negotiations have been ongoing for months.

DirecTV subscribers in the markets where Tribune owns the local Fox affiliate will lose access to programs such as ``American Idol'' and Major League Baseball. Where Tribune owns the local affiliate of The CW Network, DirecTV subscribers will be unable to see shows such as "Gossip Girl" and "Vampire Diaries."

Tribune's broadcasting group owns or runs 23 television stations, WGN America on national cable and Chicago radio station WGN-AM. Its publishing arm includes daily newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun.

DirecTV serves 32 million people in the U.S. and Latin America.

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