Cable, Satellite Distributors Watch the Clock

Several cable and satellite TV distributors will be watching the clock New Year's Eve, in hopes they can avoid blackouts of local broadcast stations and cable networks as the New Year approaches.

The biggest of those deals is the negotiation between the National Cable Television Cooperative, a group of more than 700 small cable operators representing about 3 million viewers, and Fox Corp. Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, FS1 and FS2, Fox Soccer Plus and Fox Deportes were scheduled to go dark at midnight, and as of mid-day were apparently no closer to a deal. In addition, NCTC members will have to negotiate retrans deals for several Fox owned and operated TV stations whose deals expire at midnight separately from the co-op.  

Hearst Television’s 34 stations across the country were set to go dark to DirecTV and AT&T TV Now customers at midnight, and so far, there seems to be no indication a deal is imminent. UPDATE: Hearst said the agreement has been extended to Jan. 3 at 5 p.m. ET.

UPDATE2: Hearst stations went dark on Jan. 3, after a 7 p.m. extension passed with no deal.  

“Hearst has a long history of successfully concluding carriage agreements with cable companies and other satellite distributors with no disruption of service to subscribers,” Hearst said on its station websites.  “While we hope to conclude our negotiations before December 31st, so as not to deprive any of our respective viewers and customers of our programming, we want to advise our viewers and customers that the possibility of non-renewal of our current agreement exists.”

In a statement AT&T said it was "disappointed" that Hearst has decided to negotiate in public, but expressed some optimism that a deal could be reached.

"We want to keep Hearst’s local stations in our customers’ lineups but must have Hearst’s permission," AT&T said in its statement. "We remain on the side of consumer choice and value, whereas Hearst is known to often withhold its stations to try to increase its fees for free broadcast TV. Consumers deserve more choice over which channels they want to pay for – especially ones they can choose to get free – and the freedom to decide where, when and on what device they can watch any favorite programs. We hope to avoid a suspension of any Hearst stations and appreciate our customers’ patience while we work to settle this matter privately."

Mediacom Communications is still in talks with Nexstar Media Group for its stations in Iowa and elsewhere. Sources familiar with both companies said earlier that talks had slowed, but now that Nexstar has reached a retrans deal with the much larger Comcast Cable, perhaps those negotiations could accelerate. UPDATE: Mediacom and Nexstar cut a deal and averted a blackout.

Nexstar officials said they have reached retrans agreements with Comcast -- which Comcast also confirmed -- covering more than 90 of their stations across the country, and with Frontier Communications. Terms of those deals were not disclosed and Nexstar had no further comment. 

Related: Nexstar, Tegna Reach Retrans Deals With Comcast 

Tegna, which also reached a retransmission consent agreement with Comcast earlier, is still talking with Altice USA’s Suddenlink Communications unit and hopes to hammer out a deal by midnight. About 20 Tegna stations, including CBS affiliate KTHV in Little Rock, Ark.; NBC affiliate WKYC in Cleveland; ABC affiliate WFAA in Dallas; and Fox affiliate KIDY in Abilene, Texas are set to go dark at 10:59 p.m. (Central Time) if a deal can’t be reached. Another Tegna station -- Fox affiliate WTIC in Hartford, Connecticut is scheduled to go dark at midnight (Eastern Time) to Altice USA’s Optimum customers in that market at midnight, minus an agreement.

On their websites, the Tegna stations say they have reached agreements with other distributors and that its properties are “committed to reaching fair, market-based agreements with all the video service providers in our area. Our track record proves it. ...It has been disappointing that Suddenlink, so far, has refused to reach an agreement.”

UPDATE: Tegna and Suddenlink reached an agreement Tuesday night, avoiding a blackout of stations. 

"Tegna has reached a multi-year agreement with Suddenlink with no interruption of service to viewers," the broadcaster said in a statement.