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“The NFL playoffs begin Jan. 5 and we want football fans in our markets to be able to watch these games and root for their favorite teams.” That’s the word from Tribune Media senior vp Gary Weitman, who took Tribune’s inability to strike a new carriage deal with Spectrum public on Thursday.
In doing so, Tribune became the second TV company in as many days to use NFL playoff games as a bargaining chip, as Disney warned FiOS customers on Wednesday they could lose the NFL if Disney’s channels, including ESPN and ABC in some markets, go dark at 5 p.m. Eastern on New Year’s Eve due to their languishing negotiations.
Spectrum is a cable TV brand operated by Charter Communications, and Weitman says 6 million subscribers risk losing Tribune’s programming at midnight on New Year’s Eve should the parties not extend an existing agreement or strike a new one. He also said NCAA basketball is at risk and that 14 million subscribers could lose access to WGN America, Tribune’s basic cable network.
“We are only a few days away from the deadline to reach an agreement with Spectrum, just as we have done with every one of our other cable, satellite and telco distributors,” Weitman said. “We felt that now was the time to begin telling Spectrum subscribers that they may lose access to our stations and the programming they provide.”
The dispute comes at a precarious time for Tribune, as it has agreed to be acquired by Nextar for $4.1 billion, a merger that, when closed, will create the nation’s largest owner of local TV stations, a title now held by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which tried and failed to merge with Tribune.
“We are negotiating with Tribune and we hope to reach a fair agreement,” Charter said in a statement emailed to The Hollywood Reporter.
Carriage disputes are not uncommon and one party or the other usually take their case to the public in order to drum up support for their cause. Beyond Disney-FiOS, which is owned by Verizon, and Spectrum-Tribune, Dish Network is engaged in a war of words with Univision and WarnerMedia’s HBO.
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