Millions Of Charter Customers Could Start 2017 Without NBC Channels

Image courtesy of Kerry Lannert

Were you hoping to catch the big game on Sunday night between the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions on NBC, a game that has major playoff implications? Or perhaps you wanted to settle down and tune in while some Real Housewives stars throw wine at each other on Bravo? If you’re one of 16 million or so Charter Spectrum customers, your plans might be foiled by a contract dispute between the cable company and NBCUniversal.

The two sides are at a standstill in carrier negotiations that would mean millions of Charter customers — including many in New York City and Los Angeles — will lose access to all of NBCU’s channels, including Bravo, E!, Syfy, USA, MSNBC, CNBC, and Oxygen on Jan. 1, Variety reports.

“NBCUniversal values its partnership with Charter Spectrum, our third largest distributor,” an NBCU spokesperson told Variety in a statement. “Charter Spectrum has been unyielding in its demand for terms superior to those agreed to by the rest of the industry, including larger distributors.”

Because of that position, NBCU says it feels a “responsibility” to let viewers know about the possible blackout.

To that end, NBCU is aiming a marketing campaign to appeal to Charter customers to pressure their cable provider into being more flexible in negotiations. The campaign includes a crawl that runs along the bottom of Charter customers’ TV screens while they watch NBCU channels.

For the blackout to occur, that would mean NBCU would have to cut its feed to Charter.

According to insiders cited by Variety, Charter rejected a package price for NBCU’s channels similar to that paid by other distributors, causing negotiations to come to an impasse. The current deal expires Jan. 1.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t just a battle between a cable company and a media group: NBCU is owned by Comcast, which is a major competitor to Charter, which now owns Time Warner Cable.

This is far from the first time we’ve seen contract disputes result in blackout threats, and in some cases, actual blackouts: most recently, in August, NFL Network and RedZone returned to Dish Network after a prolonged dispute. In June, millions of Dish Network subscribers lost access to Tribune Media Co. TV stations amid a contract dispute.

If a blackout does happen, however, it’s unlikely that Charter customers will be eligible for a refund for losing access to those channels, after an October federal court ruling regarding a few other high-profile Dish Network blackouts.

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