Some of the highest-rated shows on TV today – primetime hits like “The Big Bang Theory,” “CSI,” “NCIS” and “Two and a Half Men” – might soon be off limits for Central Texans who subscribe to DirecTV.
A contract that allows the nation’s largest satellite provider to carry KEYE, Austin’s CBS television affiliate, expires at month’s end and, as of now, the companies say they haven’t been able to forge a new agreement.
If a deal isn’t reached, more than 70 stations nationwide that are owned or operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group, the company that purchased KEYE in 2011, could vanish from DirecTV lineups on March 1, including Beaumont’s CBS affiliate and San Antonio’s CW, Fox and NBC stations.
It’s unclear exactly how many Central Texans would be affected by a blackout. Cable and satellite providers don’t release those numbers for competitive reasons.
Retransmission fees – federally mandated compensation cable and satellite providers pay local stations in order to carry their signals – are the sticking point, both sides say.
Sound familiar? It should. Sinclair and Dish Network had a similar battle late last year.
Also in recent years, Austin stations KTBC, KVUE and KXAN have all scuffled with various cable and satellite providers over retransmission fees, which have been steadily rising.
In a message to subscribers, DirecTV refers to Sinclair’s demands as “capricious,” saying the company is seeking more than double what it’s currently being paid for the right to broadcast stations that are free to anyone who has a TV antenna.
“We have every intention of compensating Sinclair fairly, but DirecTV will not collaborate in public extortion involving broadcast stations already available to our customers over airwaves they already own and have a right to access,” DirecTV said in a statement.
Much of the content on Sinclair stations can be found online, as well, DirecTV says.
“These threats and interruptions are now a regrettable part of the TV business, and so Congress and the FCC are beginning to take a closer look into whether stations licensed to serve the public interest are antagonizing people instead,” DirecTV wrote.
Sinclair, meanwhile, said DirecTV is undervaluing its signals, pointing out that its stations pay millions each year to acquire programming – shows that frequently have more viewers than many cable networks.
“It is just standard business practice that the satellite companies should pay for the right to resell programming to their subscribers,” Sinclair said in a written statement. “We are simply asking to be treated fairly, based on the popularity of our programming, in the amount we are compensated.”
DirecTV says it raised monthly rates by an average of 4.5 percent this year and is warning customers additional hikes might be needed if the company is unable to reign in what it pays to carry local TV stations and national cable networks.
That argument doesn’t sit well with Sinclair.
“They may pass these costs on to their subscribers or they could choose just to reduce the profits they make,” the broadcaster said. “Alternatively, they could negotiate to reduce the fees they pay for programming which is far less popular than the programming provided by the Sinclair stations and for which, we believe they pay disproportionately high prices as compared to the amount being requested by Sinclair.”