AT&T Gives Hill Its Take on Sinclair Impasse
As a blackout looms with the current retransmission consent impasse between Sinclair and AT&T--Sinclair is warning DirecTV and U-Verse customers the stations (136 stations in 86 markets) could be off those AT&T-owned MVPDs by Sept. 27--AT&T is framing the impasse for legislators concerned about their constituent/viewers as a still-ongoing negotiation with AT&T, not surprisingly, "on the side of the customer."
That is according to a letter AT&T sent to members of Congress Thursday (Sept. 26), according to a copy obtained by Multichannel News. AT&T also took the opportunity to put in a pitch for the comprehensive retrans-regime ending bill introduced by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Steve Scalise (R-La.).
Technically, broadcasters do have control over whether a signal remains available to MVPD customers, but broadcasters argue that is the leverage they have in negotiations when MVPDs won't pay fair value for must-have signals that they point out are always still available free over the air.
The AT&T letter is reproduced below:
Update on Negotiations with Sinclair
I wanted to let you know that AT&T is negotiating with Sinclair to provide local broadcast stations in your area. If Sinclair pulls these local stations, your constituents could be impacted, and we wanted to give you an update.
Sinclair controls nearly 200 free, over-the-air local broadcast stations in almost 100 markets, and recently spent $10.6 billion to add 23 regional sports networks (RSNs) carrying the local sporting events in those same communities. Wielding these assets, Sinclair routinely threatens or cuts off access to its combination of local and national network content to accomplish one goal: drive up its fees for content that is offered free over the air and being watched less and less.
Still, AT&T will continue to negotiate in good faith to keep Sinclair’s channels in our customers’ lineups. We are on the side of customer choice and value and hope to avoid any interruption to channels that some customers may value. If Sinclair follows through on their threat to pull their stations, however, we have worked hard to provide our customers the following options:
Locast: The Locast App is available on internet connected DIRECTV Genie and U-verse receivers, so customers in markets supported by Locast can stream their local stations. For more information on the app, customers can visit www.locast.org.
Local Channel Connector Antenna: AT&T has developed a local channel connector that allows customers to access available local broadcast stations through an antenna – for free (subject to availability). Once installed, the station is displayed in the channel guide as before. Eligible impacted customer can receive an overnight express shipped Local Channel Connector while supplies last by calling 1-800-531-5000.
Mobile Apps: Customers can also continue to watch many of the same shows and events over the air for free, often at the individual local station and broadcast network websites, and by using the WatchABC, CBS, NBC and Fox Now mobile apps.
Consumers deserve a choice. We continue to fight for them and appreciate their patience.
It’s time for comprehensive federal legislation that ends the outdated retransmission consent regime and cycle of rising fees and blackouts that it has fostered. We’re pleased Congress is taking notice. AT&T supports the bipartisan Modern Television Act of 2019 (H.R. 3994), co-sponsored by Representatives Anna Eshoo and Steve Scalise. We are committed to working with Congress, broadcasters and others to modernize our video and television laws to benefit consumers.
If you have any additional questions or need further information, please contact xx
AT&T Executive Vice President of Federal Relations
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.