AT&T Stephenson ‘Optimistic’ CBS Blackout Could End Soon

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said that if CBS returns to the bargaining table, he thinks the blackout of CBS stations on DirecTV could be ended.

But, speaking on AT&T’s second-quarter earnings call Wednesday morning, Stephenson said the retransmission dispute blacking out more than 100 Nextstar stations could take longer to solve.

Stephenson said that in terms of fees, the difference between what CBS is asking and what AT&T is offering “is not that wide.” But he said that since making a “reasonable offer” five days ago the response from CBS has been “crickets. We’re still sitting here dark and not having any interaction with CBS.”

He speculated that CBS might be occupied with other negotiations.

Stephenson said he was “optimistic’ that if AT&T could get CBS back to the bargaining table they could get a deal closed.

In a fact sheet, CBS said it remains ready and available to negotiation.

"When the original agreement between CBS and AT&T was set to expire on June 30, CBS offered a 19-day extension to make good faith efforts to broker a fair deal," CBS said, adding that the extension offer still stands.

CBS said that on July 19, the day CBS was removed from AT&T's subscribers, CBS offered AT&T a 30-day extension of the prior deal.

"AT&T rejected that offer and took CBS off its systems," CBS said. AT&T  offered a six-day extension subject to CBS accepting all of AT&T’s terms and conditions, CBS said.

CBS added that since the blackout it has seen a "dramatic spike" in subscribers signing up for the CBS All Access OTT service.

Nexstar, he said, began bargaining by seeking a 100% increase in retransmission consent fees for programming that is available free-over-the-air.

The broadcaster was also seeking similar increase for properties it is in the process of acquiring. That was “a non-starter,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson said Nexstar is no seeking a 50% fee increase.

“Our customers in this world of streaming are finding other ways to access this content,” he noted. AT&T has added non-profit streaming service Locast to its DirecTV user interface, allowing subscribers to watch CBS stations in some markets on their TV sets.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.