Content provider Sinclair Broadcast Group went on the offensive in a retransmission dispute with AT&T today, issuing a press release that attempts to portray AT&T in a bad light in its role as pay-TV provider.

“Millions of AT&T U-verse, DIRECTV and AT&T TV NOW subscribers in 86 markets are at risk of losing access to 136 television stations . . .  due to AT&T’s unwillingness to negotiate fair market carriage licenses with Sinclair Broadband Group Inc.,” Sinclair stated in the press release.

According to the release, the current contract between AT&T and Sinclair was set to expire in August, but Sinclair provided a five-week extension in an “attempt to avoid harm to consumers.” 

Sinclair urged AT&T video customers to “make their voices heard” to ensure they don’t lose access to Sinclair content, which includes certain ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CW and MyNet affiliates, as well as the Tennis Channel.

Retransmission Dispute
Pay-TV providers have a different perspective, arguing that content providers are the bad guys in retransmission disputes. A key argument made by pay-TV providers is that content costs have been climbing dramatically, driving up the cost of pay-TV for consumers. It’s a reality that pay-TV providers often point to when they issue press releases aimed at garnering consumer support during retransmission negotiations, particularly when the parties involved have not reached a new agreement prior to a contract expiration, leading to a blackout of the content provider’s content. 

Some traditional pay-TV providers are now questioning the entire pay-TV business model and even exiting the business. Other operators have decided to pass the rising fees on to consumers and place less emphasis on video, preferring to focus on broadband.

The system does appear to be broken in a sense. As of July, the U.S. had experienced 213 blackouts as a result of retransmission disputes since the beginning of the year – tying the previous year-long record, according to the American Television Alliance, which includes consumer groups, video providers and independent programmers. Pay-TV operators have approached the FCC and Congress, seeking changes to the regulations that govern local broadcast content distribution.

According to the Sinclair press release, three out of every four stations that have experienced a “retransmission consent disruption” have involved AT&T.

Noting that AT&T is the largest pay-TV provider in the country, Sinclair Senior Vice President and General Counsel David Gibber said in today’s press release that AT&T “seems intent on using its tremendous market power to dictate to viewers which programming from other content providers they can receive, even as they continue to acquire content providers and push their own content to viewers.”

The latter comment is an apparent reference to AT&T’s Time Warner purchase, although AT&T didn’t acquire any local broadcast stations in that transaction.

Gibber said the rates AT&T is willing to pay are “below market rates.” This is a common argument made by broadcasters. Terms of these transactions are often subject to non-disclosure agreements, so true “market rates” are hard to define and measure.

AT&T did not immediately reply to a request for comment from Telecompetitor.

Join the Conversation

8 thoughts on “Sinclair Goes on the Offensive in Retransmission Dispute with AT&T

  1. I really don't care who is at fault with the negotiations going on between AT&T and Sinclair Broadcasting. What I do care about is that the people who will be at a loss are us subscribers who are Paying to have these channels. AT&T & Sinclair need to get there act together and work for the Benefit of us consumers. This is a fine time to decide to possibly cancel certain channels when all the new fall problems will be starting. I am sick of these High Money Making companies taking advantage of us the customers. Let us have the channels we are PAYING for and you two (Sinclair & AT&T Direct) think of us rather then what you will gain by shutting down certain stations. In the 18 plus years, we have had Direct, I don't recall us ever having this problem till AT&T bought Direct. Think about who you are affecting. Us the customers.
    On another note. I tried to call today the phone number that was shown in a banner the other day and was on hold for 20 plus minutes and finally hung up. On 9/21/19 I also called 833-668-6288 and did talk to someone only to be told I had to call another number to complain. Well, why don't you post the correct number so I don't have to go thru all these different phone numbers.

  2. When our cable system carried local channels, Sinclair was the worst station owner to deal with. They own the ABC affiliate KOCO-5 in Oklahoma City. Sinclair also owned the cable networks Lifetime, Lifetime Real Women, and Lifetime Movie Network, so when the FCC implemented Retransmission Consent, Sinclair's condition for consent to carry KOCO was that we also carry ALL the satellite networks, regardless of whether or not there was any demand for them, and also stipulated what the channel position in our lineup of those satellite networks would have to be, which was next to each other in a lower band with low channel numbers. Of course, we would also have to pay a fee to carry KOCO as well. All these stipulations and requirements were to be kept secret of course, we could not use any of them in press materials to defend our position if a dispute were to come about. We do not carry ANY video services at all any more, so I can gladly talk about all the crap we had to deal with from the TV stations and their ownership groups.

    None of this was negotiable in discussions with Sinclair, it was a take it or leave it proposition. I am sure this is what AT&T is having to deal with in their spat with Sinclair. I am no huge fan of AT&T either, but Sinclair is just using their normal methods in this dispute.

  3. Yes, I also do not care who is right and who is wrong. All I know is that the consumer is the loser. I lost my CBS local station all summer, did I get any refund NO! Now they want to take away my favorite local station ABC, and the ONLY one I get local Asheville news and weather on? I live 40 miles from town and have to know the local road and weather conditions before I leave the house. THANKS ALOT Direct TV and SINCLAIR!

  4. You should care who is right and wrong here. Broadcasters are asking Pay TV subscribers to pay high fees for content that is available free OTA. This puts the burden on rural customers who are not close enough to antennas to get OTA. Customers who could get the broadcasts for free are forced to pay for them if they have a pay tv subscription. I'd like to see all the MVPDs blackout broadcasters to force a more reasonable rate structure.

  5. You should care very much about who is wrong and who is right. When a broadcaster demands, with no concessions possible, that DirecTV or Dish pay $1 more per month/customer for that local station, the provider is going to have to raise rates or accept lower profit, and we know they are not going to do that. It costs the broadcaster absolutely nothing to provide their signal to the satellite provider. The satellite provider in most cases uses a regular antenna to receive the signal and then put it into their feed.

    That has been the entire problem with retransmission fees from the beginning. Cable and satellite do not alter the broadcast signal at all. They do not add commercials, pre-empt programming, nothing, they simply pur out what they receive, yet the broadcasters’ argument for being paid was that cable/satellite “modified” their signal and the FCC bought into that. It is basically wrong and just a money-grab by the broadcasters, but it came about and we are stuck with it. And rural customers who cannot receive TV with an antenna bear all the burden.

  6. I hate Sinclair and their political agenda, but I have enjoyed and been happy with DTV for more than 18 years. I am now pissed off at both of them and AT&T. I have no "commitment contract" any longer. Now I can take my money and buy an antenna so Sinclair won't get any of my money and stream so DTV won't get any either. Is that what you all want? I'm tired of losing channels I watch while there are hundreds of others I never look at.
    Get your stuff together or your going to send even more customers to the exits.

    1. How does that hurt Sinclair? They still make money off of you when watch it throug antenna the ad revenue. Leaving one provider for another solves nothing as they all go through this.

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