Patriot Games

Altice USA's request that CBS-affiliate WFSB in Connecticut unblock programming to its customers in the state for the National Football League’s AFC Championship game on Jan. 22, pitting the local favorite New England Patriots vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers, has been stuffed.

WFSB, which broadcasts to a small portion of Altice USA customers in Litchfield and New Haven counties in Connecticut, went dark on Jan. 13 after the parties could not reach a retransmission consent agreement. Altice USA said the bulk of its Connecticut customers can see the game via the New York CBS affiliate (WCBS). The cable operator has also offered customers a free trial of CBS All Access, the over-the-top offering from the broadcaster, to watch the playoffs and other network content online. 

The fact that WFSB has not unblocked the channel shouldn’t be surprising. Going dark is usually a station’s only leverage in retrans negotiations and compelling event programming – like NFL playoff games – is usually what gets the parties to reach a compromise.

On its website, WFSB called Altice USA an “outlier,” adding that it has reached retrans agreements with every other distributor with no disruption in service.

“Without fair and equitable treatment, local TV stations will not be able to continue to provide top quality news, sports, entertainment, and other local programming that is most important to you,” WFSB said on its website.

Officials at WFSB parent Meredith Corp. did not immediately return a request for comment.

Altice USA said this is the second time its request to make the channel available for the NFL playoffs has been denied – it made the same plea for the Patriot’s Jan. 14 meeting with the Houston Texans in the AFC divisional playoff. Meredith refused that request even though the two U.S. Senators representing the state – Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy – had asked the channel be made available to Altice customers while talks continued.

“We’ve heard from our Litchfield and New Haven customers and know they want to watch the Patriots game this weekend,” Altice USA said in a statement. “We’re frustrated too and think it’s outrageous that WFSB refuses to put the channel back on for our customers as we continue our negotiations. We have asked WFSB and its owners repeatedly to stop holding our customers hostage. If WFSB cares about its viewers then why won’t they agree to put the game on?”