DirecTV Dispute Keeps Viewers From Watching NFL Playoffs

Miami Dolphins fans are used to their team missing the playoffs, but they’re usually still allowed to watch other teams play out the postseason on DirecTV. That wasn’t the case this weekend, though, because a carriage dispute between the satellite provider and the owner of Miami’s Fox affiliate caused the channel to black out throughout the weekend. Two NFL playoff games were the highest-profile casualties of the tiff.

As the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports, the problem affected 270,000 households. DirecTV-subscribing sports bars were forced to resort to antennas and cable broadcasts to carry the games.

Sunbeam Television, which owns Miami Fox affiliate WSVN, as well as Boston NBC and CW affiliates, pulled its programming at midnight Friday because it wasn’t able to work out a new deal. Sunbeam is reportedly significantly upping the amount it’s charging DirecTV, which says its asking price isn’t fair because Comcast pays far less to the company. A Sunbeam rep says it’s only seeking market value and will renegotiate its deal with Comcast in July.

While TV providers often engage in public contract disputes with carriers, they’re usually settled before things get this ugly. With the NFC championship game approaching and a new season of American Idol set to debut, both parties are victimizing viewers by failing to play nice.

And the problem isn’t endemic to Florida. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted that a similar standoff between Verizon FiOS and a CBS affiliate owner in Harrisburg, Penn. kept playoff games off the air in parts of Pennsylvania.

Football fans blacked out in DirecTV dispute [South Florida Sun-Sentinel via Deadline]

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  1. kc2idf says:

    I, for one, am sick of this.

    I don’t particularly care about football, but this game of brinksmanship has gone on long enough.

    Years ago, the satellite providers were slapped with a “must carry” rule that benefits the local channels, even though it is a ridiculous way to provide local channels. I’d like to see the scales balanced by slapping the local broadcasters with a “must provide” rule that matches it. Either that, or revoke the “must carry” rule.

    The argument that the cable/satellite companies make money off of carriage of locals doesn’t wash, as far as I can see. Yeah, sure, the cable/sat company charges a fee, but more importantly, the broadcaster gets their advertisements in front of an audience that would otherwise not see them.

    I propose that if you are blasting out your signal, of your own volition, to a non-paying audience, your claim to any carriage fees or other controls over who gets to see it should be null and void. If that breaks your business model, then you shouldn’t be broadcasting.

    • Mr. Bill says:

      Agree.

    • slightlyjaded says:

      I don’t think this is accurate. Local affiliates get a tiny slice of the advertising in a national broadcast like an NFL game. (Most slots are filled by the national network. The local affiliate may get a couple spots per hour, at most.) At the same time, the programming (specifically NFL playoff games) is hugely valuable. That’s why cable/sat operators pay billions of dollars to carry ESPN.

      The NFL charges networks billions to broadcast its games. So cable/sat companies should pay billions to ESPN and the NFL Network, but get the four to five network NFL games broadcast each week (the highest-rated programming on TV) for free? I don’t see how this is a fairer arrangement.

      • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

        “So cable/sat companies should pay billions to ESPN and the NFL Network, “

        One difference is that there’s not a “must carry” rule for ESPN and NFL Network. The last I knew, the local cable provider didn’t carry NFL Network (and nobody particularly cared, even us sports fans).

        It’s true that the local stations don’t get much of the revenue, but on the flip side, the parent networks are ponying up the cash for the rights – and THEY are reaping significant revenue from the advertising.

        The last time this sort of a fight occurred around here, DirecTV responded by broadcasting a network affiliate from about 50 miles away. A lot of people were disappointed when an agreement was reach, because the non-local affiliate was a better station …

      • Virga says:

        No, it’s accurate. Like he said, the sat operators were already forced into a ridiculous must carry scheme. A tremendous amount of satellite capacity is spent sending the same programming to every local market. Want to watch an NBC show from New York or LA? If you dont live there, it is against the law. You might miss a local mattress commercial. Who cares how many hundreds of millions of dollars in technology investment this requires. So when I see an issue like this, it seems as if locals are overextending their demands.

        I hate defending cable/satellite providers. But I, too, am sick of this. The local affiliate system is dying with the local newspapers. It’s their fault for not adapting, but they’ll take it out on customers anyway.

        • slightlyjaded says:

          I don’t think must carry rules are ridiculous. If there is public value to local programming (especially news), I don’t have an issue with requiring companies using public airwaves or public infrastructure to carry local programming. Especially when local newspapers are dying, and your local TV station may well be the only organization spending money to cover and investigate your local government.

          You’re going to have a hard time mandating anything regarding newspapers, but I have zero issue with requiring media companies using public infrastructure to devote some of their resources to supporting local information. And if you’re going to require that for cable operators using public infrastructure, I don’t see how it makes sense to exempt satellite providers.

          If satellite providers can’t figure out a way to efficiently integrate local programming (and they can–that’s what digital MPEG processing platforms do) then they’ll have to try harder.

          • frank64 says:

            Are you saying that the satellite and cable providers MUST pay whatever the stations want? Is thee a limit? Do you think a 300% increase is fair, and are you willing to pay the extra cost when all stations increase their fees by similar amounts?

            The infrastructure they use is paid for by taxes, every company uses infrastructure, this idea would allow every company to be susceptible to all kinds of regulation.

            • slightlyjaded says:

              I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that I don’t think must-carry rules are inherently ridiculous. So in this day and age, that likely means squabbling between carriers and networks and affiliates as they negotiate their rates.

              I don’t like when these disagreements result in viewers getting screwed, as they did here, but I don’t know what the alternative is. I do think the alternative proposed–let local affiliates die and, presumably, serve everyone everywhere with the same national media–is not a wise idea.

          • Virga says:

            But must carry is a horrible use of public infrastructure, in this case radio frequencies. Look at this ONE Dish Network satellite:
            http://www.lyngsat.com/packages/dish110.html

            All those locals are showing EXACTLY the same thing except for the used car and mattress commercials. That’s capacity that could be better utilized. Must carry on cable is technically easier (and cheaper). There is one head end for each market, hundreds across the country. Depending on you sat. provider, there are maybe 4 satellites. That’s it, for the whole country.

            Your comment about the value of local news is a good point. However, do we still need 4-5 local news programs? Is there really that much journalistic value or difference between channels in most markets? In some cases, aren’t these channels all owned by a few media companies? Rather, I’d propose doing away with the whole local market model, created in the early days of terrestrial TV. There’d be the 4 big networks, 8 channels (ABC West, ABC East, NBC West,etc). Local news companies could make as much local news as the market would support, transmitted on terrestrial digital TV. The only government mandate: TVs are required to have off air tuners that seamlessly integrate with the cable or satellite signal. Done and done.

      • frank64 says:

        There needs to be some limit to the price the NFL is charging, and the tripling of the price is way over the top. The problem is those that ultimately pay do not have the choice. This tripling is being paid by everyone, even if they do not watch sports.

        That there is the station as a middleman obscures the issue enough to confuse people. Would those same people that are complain about DirectTV not paying normally want to pay a 300% price increase? What if channel did the same, do they want to pay an even higher bill than they do now?

        • kc2idf says:

          Now, here I disagree. I think the NFL should be able to charge whatever they want. If they price themselves out of business, that is their problem to correct. I won’t, personally, shed a tear over it. The fans, however, will go apeshit and that’s the sort of thing that the NFL will want to prevent.

      • Flyersfan says:

        The last explanation I heard about this, and it was years ago and could very well be wrong, was that the local stations “sold” their airtime back to the national network for the national shows. That airtime was then used by the national network for broadcasting the games and the national commercials that you see. It was my understanding that the local station could keep as much of that airtime as they wanted but the network was paying them more for it than they could get selling their own commercials.

        My heart doesn’t bleed for the local stations at all. Before cable/sat TV came about, there were plenty of local stations that did just fine. I’m guessing what we’re seeing is large corporations buying local stations all over the country and using carriage fees as an easy way to increase profits/share prices to appease the beast that is Wall Street.

        BTW – I live in Central PA and I didn’t even realize that my local CBS affiliate was off the air. I would have noticed if I had missed How I Met Your Mother or Big Bang Theory but only long enough to find them online. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the kids and wife, I probably wouldn’t have cable.

    • MyTQuinn says:

      “I propose that if you are blasting out your signal, of your own volition, to a non-paying audience, your claim to any carriage fees or other controls over who gets to see it should be null and void. If that breaks your business model, then you shouldn’t be broadcasting.”

      I absolutely agree. Their revenue comes from advertisers, and the larger audience resulting from cable/satellite carrying their broadcasts only makes their advertising slots more valuable.

  2. Cat says:

    If DirecTV viewers really need to see their team lose, they just need to use an antenna. WSVN has a strong signal and Florida is flat as a pancake.

    And they’ll get to see how good uncompressed HDTV looks.

    • Klay says:

      Spot-on statement. With a good outdoor antenna one could pick up at least 37 TV stations and their subs. Cut the cable.

    • beachmouse says:

      Though not all ‘local’ tv markets are so lucky in terms of reception. I live in a county of almost 200K people that just happens to be midway between two different Nielsen markets and people here get zero over the air channels unless you’ve got one of those 30+ foot tall super-antennas.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      It’s not “uncompressed” but rather “not overcompressed” (at least in many cases … some TV broadcasters and stuffing their 6 MHz with many program streams).

    • Maltboy wanders aimlessly through the Uncanny Valley says:

      This. The over-the-air picture quality on my set is absolutely stunning, especially for live events.

  3. gqcarrick says:

    There is a standoff with MSG and Time Warner right now. I dropped cable, since I can’t punish MSG as much as I would like to, and just watch games on the internet now. Time Warner lost my cable TV service, if I had an alternative to cable internet that was just as fast, I would completely drop Time Warner.

  4. frank64 says:

    I live near Boston and have an antenna. Channel 7 doesn’t charge me anything to watch their station, but if I had cable or satellite I would have to pay through the higher fees. Cable and satellite just provide an antenna service and that is all they should need to charge, except to be the middleman in commercial free stations. I can see a case that the stations should pay cable for the service of expanding their signal to provide more viewers for advertisers.

  5. frank64 says:

    The best solution would be for that channel to be optional, let everyone who want the station pay the extra fee. That would put the normal price/value decision making into the picture.

  6. Torchwood says:

    Time to write Congress, as they set up the rules regarding carriage of the local stations on both cable and satellite. As it is, the station has a monopoly on a particular market, and if you don’t like the early prime scheduling or the pre-emptions of network programs, you are SOL. One has to especially enjoy that these carriage agreements expire just prior to high-profile events or programs.

    What is even more annoying is that the NFL is the big major sport that is still carried on broadcast television. In contrast, the high majority of baseball, basketball, and hockey games are broadcast on Regional $ports Networks or the $ports Channels, which have the highest per-subscriber rates for a channel on basic cable. In additional, they require that the channels be carried on the most basic tiers which you have to pay for even though you have no interest in sports.

    In the end, it’s the viewers who lose.

  7. BorkBorkBork says:

    Haha, one of the loudest arguments in support of keeping expensive cable plans is for “da live sports!!” And now they can’t even get that.

  8. Lyn Torden says:

    Buying and repackaging channels is what is wrong here. DirecTV was paying or would pay WSVN for their programming, then deliver it to customers who had no choice but to pay for it, if they were to have the package that channel is in. WSVN talks about “market value”. So what if the market itself had to actually make the decision to PAY for WSVN?

    So my solution to this is to make everything on both cable and satellite be À la carte. Then (as the economic conservatives so often promote) let the market decide.

    The problem here is we do NOT really get the supply/demand pricing effect without the above. So some channel provide can just jack their rates without worrying about any incremental effects like losing 100 viewers. The policy (and I personally am all in favor of mandating this) should be that if the channel provider charges money, the delivery system subscriber has to make that channel √Ä la carte and charge the customers that choose to have that channel the price for it, whatever it is … plus the markup percentage that the deliver system company wants to add.

    • frank64 says:

      Often when this comes up people talk of the higher cost of this type of pricing. The price really can’t be cut in half if we decide to cut half the stations. There is a fixed cost.

      As a kind of compromise, I think they should just have a floor price for channels in a certain category, anytime the station wants more than that price, they leave the bundle and go to optional to the subscriber. This means that if they believe their channel warrants a higher price, they can get it. The consumer also has a choice and will not be blaming the satellite company just because they are the middleman. Right now what many subscribers would like, is for the satellite company to pay the higher fees, but not pass it on to the subscribers. Doesn’t make sense.

  9. ianzu says:

    Sorry, what exactly is “fair market value” for a broadcast network signal that is given out for free?

  10. Kestris says:

    You heard anything about Dish Network and Fox being at an impasse resulting in loss of the Fox channel for Dish Network subscribers starting Jan 18th?

  11. ossuary says:

    Sounds very similar to a New Year’s Day surprise Dish gave some of its customers a few weeks back. I awoke to find this lovely little jewel on all my locals:
    http://tinypic.com/r/b8o4jk/5

    Its probably one of the reasons Dish (and probably Direct too?) have an extra OTA DVR tuner in their new models to get around these type “spats”.

  12. FrugalFreak says:

    do not care about dish, direct, cable, faux, or many other greedy networks and distributors. You have NOTHING You think You have!

  13. dush says:

    People who’ve been convinced American Idol is good television are the real victims.