Tribune tells DirecTV to take stations down
Unable to reach a new agreement, Tribune Co. told DirecTV to pull the signals of its 23 television stations off the satellite broadcaster, the media company said late Saturday night.
DirecTV subscribers to Tribune stations such as WPIX-TV in New York and in other East Coast locales were the first markets expected to lose their channels. In Los Angeles, KTLA-TV should be off of DirecTV after midnight unless a deal or some sort of a temporary extension is reached. However, a last-minute breakthrough seems very unlikely.
Because Tribune's KTLA is the local affiliate of the CW in Los Angeles, this will mean DirecTV subscribers could lose access to such shows as “America’s Next Top Model,” “Gossip Girl,” and "Vampire Diaries.”
The two sides spent the last few days trying to reach an agreement while simultaneously criticizing each other publicly. Early Saturday, DirecTV said it had agreed to terms offered by Tribune to carry its television stations, leading many to assume that the two sides had settled their differences.
However, Tribune soon fired back that DirecTV was misleading people and that there was no agreement in place. Tribune is the parent of the Los Angeles Times. It president and CEO, Eddy Hartenstein, is a former chief executive of DirecTV.
“This situation is extremely unfortunate,” said Nils Larsen, Tribune Broadcasting president. “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.”
At issue are fees that Tribune wants DirecTV to pay in return for carrying its signals. Tribune says that DirecTV has never paid for the Tribune programming it rebroadcasts over its system, though, the media company alleges, DirecTV pays other broadcasters for the same kind of programming.
DirecTV has indicated it is willing to pay to carry Tribune's television stations, but finding common ground on a price tag has proved difficult.
The sticking point, according to people familiar with the situation, are terms for WGN America, the Tribune-owned national cable channel that carries Chicago Cubs and White Sox baseball as well as Chicago Bulls basketball.
With over 19 million subscribers, DirecTV is the nation's second-largest pay-television provider after Comcast Corp., the Philadelphia-based cable company that has almost 24 million subscribers. DirecTV has a market share of just over 20% in Los Angeles.
Disputes between broadcasters and pay television distributors have become commonplace in recent years. Typically deals or extensions are reached without viewers losing channels. However, on occassion a channel does come off when the two sides cannot agree.
Most of Tribune's stations, including KTLA, are affiliated with the CW, a broadcast network co-owned by CBS Corp. and Time Warner Inc. The CW appeals primarily to teens and young adults with shows such as "Gossip Girl" and "The Vampire Diaries." Tribune also owns a handful of Fox affiliates.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: In this 2009 file photo, a DirecTV satellite dish in a residential area adjoining downtown Jackson, Miss., is shown. Credit: Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press