On Friday afternoon, Sinclair Broadcast Group distributed a somewhat sensationalized press release offering breathless commentary over how its 136 broadcast TV stations could be prevented from reaching subscribers of any AT&T-owned television service come Friday (9/27).
A new retransmission consent agreement between Sinclair and AT&T seems unlikely, given the verbage lobbed at AT&T by Sinclair. Now, AT&T is offering its own fighting words in a matter that’s only escalating.
In comments sent exclusively to RBR+TVBR by AT&T spokesperson Tom Tyrer, Sinclair was assailed for controlling “nearly 200 free over-the-air local broadcast stations in nearly 100 different markets” and for its recent $10.6 billion deal to acquire 23 regional sports networks from FOX.
“Wielding these assets, Sinclair routinely threatens or shuts off access to its combination of local and national network content to accomplish one goal: drive up what it collects for content that is offered free over the air,” AT&T said.
The owner of AT&T TV NOW, DirecTV and U-Verse added that it is “disingenuous” for Sinclair to denounce AT&T’s market power “when Sinclair, like all broadcasters, enjoys an antiquated, statutorily created monopoly for its products.”
AT&T continued, “Not surprisingly given its market power, Sinclair has made egregious demands for broad carriage and payment on one of the most expensive single-team RSNs ever with the Cubs in Chicago; for carriage of multiple cable channels that don’t even exist or that Sinclair hopes to someday acquire; and for RSNs that aren’t even up for renewal – just to name a few.”
Playing the role of good guy, AT&T pledged to continue to negotiate “in good faith” to keep all of Sinclair’s channels in its local lineups across the country. Should negotiations fail, the impact will be felt in many DMAs.
For fans of National Football League games on CBS, AT&T subscribers will lose their local affiliates in markets such as Albany, N.Y.; Austin; Bakersfield; Cincinnati; Salt Lake City; Spokane; Syracuse; West Palm Beach and Gainesville, Fla.; Grand Rapids; El Paso; Boise, Idaho; and Harrisburg, Pa.
Those seeking to watch games on FOX will have a much more difficult time, as Sinclair owns an array of FOX affiliates in markets ranging from Dayton and Columbus, Ohio to Baltimore, Buffalo, Fresno and even Green Bay, Wisc., home of the Packers.
In AT&T’s view, it is all up to Sinclair to reach a new retransmission consent deal.
“We are on the side of customer choice and value and hope to avoid any interruption to channels some may care about,” AT&T says. “Our goal is simple – to deliver the content our customers want at a value that also makes sense to them. Make no mistake: Sinclair alone controls whether or not its stations remain available on any provider’s lineup. And here, yet again, Sinclair has chosen to take its negotiations public, putting our customers into the middle so it can demand ever increasing and unjustified fees and enforce unwarranted limitations on our customers’ choices. We appreciate our customers’ patience while we work this matter out.”