After an increasingly fractious carriage dispute went past the contract deadline, 33 Tribune Broadcasting TV stations in 24 markets have gone dark on Charter Spectrum cable systems, affecting some 6 million viewers.
The companies on Monday extended the New Years Eve deadline of the current contract until 5PM ET today, but then announced that an agreement had not been reached.
The blackout affects local news and could threaten upcoming programming such as college basketball games and NFL playoff games on CBS and Fox. Many of the stations in question are CW affiliates in major markets like New York and LA, and the networks prime-time programming is set to return January 11 after holiday re-runs with its winter premiere episodes. In addition, Tribunes WGN America has gone dark for more than 14 million subscribers nationwide.
“Were extremely disappointed that we do not have an agreement on the renewal of our contract with Spectrum,” said Gary Weitman, Tribune Medias SVP for corporate relations. He added, “Weve offered Spectrum fair market rates for our top-rated local news, live sports and high-quality entertainment programming, and similarly fair rates for our cable network, WGN America. Spectrum, Weitman continued, “has refused our offer and failed to negotiate in a meaningful fashion.”
Charter countered in a statement calling the impasse “unfortunate.” The company said Tribune is “demanding an increase of more than double what we pay today for the same programming. That is more than we pay any other broadcaster. Theyre not being reasonable.”
Charter is the No. 2 U.S. cable operator, with about 16 million residential customers. The company has been notifying customers via an on-screen crawl in recent days about the impending deadline. After todays deadline passed, it displayed a series of full-screen messages about the carriage fight on the Tribune channels. “We dont think its fair theyre demanding huge fee increases,” read one, “especially since their programming is provided free with a TV antenna, and much of it is available for free on the internet.” Another denounced Tribune for being “driven by greed.”
Tribune Broadcasting parent Tribune Media is set to be acquired by Nextar in a pending deal valued at $4.1 billion. The acquisition will make Nexstar the No. 1 owner of local TV stations in the U.S., surpassing Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose own deal to acquire Tribune fell apart last summer.
Word of the Tribune-Spectrum negotiations first surfaced last week, just as Disney and Verizon Fios also publicly squared off in similar fashion, though those companies have since resolved their dispute. While 2018 finished with fewer blackouts than 2017, it yielded several high-profile impasses, including a bruising one between Starz and Altice and separate, months-long standoffs between Dish Network and Univision and Dish and HBO that are still unresolved.