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AT&T Asks Tegna Stations for OK to Show Football

Terry McLaurin (17) of the Washington Football Team during a regular season game on Oct. 4, 2020
(Image credit: Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

 AT&T's DirecTV and Uverse have sent letters to the general managers of Tegna stations for permission to show subscribers college and NFL football games this weekend that would otherwise be blacked out in the companies’ retransmission fee dispute.

Tegna’s stations in 51 markets have been dark on DirecTV and Uverse since Tuesday night.

AT&T is offering to pay the station a full-day’s retransmission fee in exchange for showing the three-hour game. The fee would be the higher fee agreed to when a new distribution deal is reached, according to the letter.

It is unlikely Tegna or its stations have the right to selectively cherry pick programming from a network feed and let a distributor carry it. AT&T also sent out press releases about the offer, a move aimed at putting pressure on the broadcaster.

One of the letters, obtained by the Houston Chronicle, seeks permission from KHOU-TV in Houston to show Sunday’s Houston Texans game against the Indianapolis Colts broadcast over CBS.

The letter, from Rob Thun, executive VP and chief content officer at AT&T Communications, is addressed to KHOU GM Robert Springer. “While you may be relatively new to the region, you have no doubt witnessed firsthand the deep passion local Texans fans and the team’s many sponsors have invested firsthand, so would hopefully join us in allowing families already hard hit by the pandemic the simple pleasure of watching their favorite team, if only for a few hours.”

The letter also noted that the set top box used by many AT&T subscribers enables them to watch the station via Locast, which streams local station signals. AT&T has made financial contributions to Locast.

“We remain hopeful that we can maintain a productive, professional business relationship with Tegna in common service of the local Houston community and look forward to your immediate and affirmative response,” Thun said in concluding his letter.

In a statement, Tegna said: “We are eager for AT&T U-verse and DirecTV to return our stations to its systems, which is why we have been and remain dedicated to working around-the-clock to reach a fair, market-based agreement. We have made clear that we are prepared to reach a deal at rates that are competitive with the rates that we have agreed to with operators of all sizes over the past fourteen months. We are responding directly to the letter AT&T has sent to our stations, consistent with our efforts to engage throughout this negotiation. If AT&T is now willing to begin good faith discussions, we are confident we can get a deal done quickly.” 

 AT&T said it sent similar letters to the GMs of Tegna’s stations in New Orleans, Indianapolis, Tampa, Columbus, Denver and St. Louis.

The letter to Michael Brouder, president and general manager of WTHR-TV, Indianapolis, AT&T seeks the rights to show Saturday’s game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Syracuse Orange. 

“We believe there is absolutely no public interest served by WTHR and its Virginia-based owner Tegna Inc. deliberately blacking out WTHR and intentionally inconveniencing thousands of Indianapolis homes that are ardent supporters of one of Indiana’s most prestigious universities,” AT&T’s Thun wrote. “As a longtime resident and adjunct faculty member at two competing Indiana universities, you have no doubt witnessed firsthand the deep passion local Irish fans and the team’s many sponsors have invested firsthand, so would hopefully join us in allowing families already hard hit by the pandemic the simple pleasure of watching their favorite team, if only for a few hours.”

In a press release, AT&T said it was offering Tegna a chance to give consumers their channels back and that AT&T stands ready to turn programming back on--Tegna just needs to give permission.

“Fans should not be used as pawns in a business negotiation,” said Celeste Boyd-Spear, VP and General Manager – AT&T Heartland States. “Tegna should set aside their differences for a single afternoon and allow everyone to enjoy this game.”