Tribune, owner of 23 TV stations in 16 markets, including some of the nation's largest, is threatening to pull its signals and the WGN America cable network from DirecTV if the two companies cannot come to an agreement by March 31 when the current contract expires.
Some of the programming at stake for DirecTV subscribers includes Mets baseball on WPIX-TV in New York, Phillies baseball on WPHL-TV in Philadelphia, and Cubs and White Sox baseball games in Chicago.
The retransmission fight is bound to stir up advocates and opponents of retransmission reform at the Federal Communications Commission, which has a pending rulemaking in the pipeline.
"Despite our best efforts, DirecTV is refusing to offer a fair deal and we remain far apart in negotiations," Nils Larson, the president of Tribune Broadcasting said in a press statement. "As a result of DirecTV's inflexibility, there's a strong likelihood that service interruptions will occur."
No one should be surprised at the rhetoric surrounding the fight. Tribune is looking for DirecTV to compensate it for clearing its programming, something Tribune has not sought from DirecTV in over 10 years. DirecTV underplayed Tribune's threat to pull the stations and cable network and urged Tribune to allow the pay TV provider to distribute Tribune's stations during negotiations, something DirecTV and others have advocated be codified in new FCC rules.
"We anticipate that Tribune will honor its 165-year history of serving the public interest and allow the stations to remain on as we continue to negotiate. We…have always compensated Tribune fairly and have no problem continuing to do so. We have absolutely no intention of denying anyone access to these stations, unless Tribune specifically demands it," DirecTV said in an emailed statement.
Tribune is reminding DirecTV subscribers that if the stations disappear on the satellite service, they can still view the stations free over-the-air.