Sinclair Warns of Station Blackout With AT&T Outlets

Sinclair Broadcast Group is warning that millions of subscribers to AT&T’s pay-TV services could be blacked out on Sept. 27 unless a new carriage agreement is reached.

Sinclair said its agreement with AT&T was set to expire in August and that it gave AT&T a five-week extension. A blackout would affect 136 TV stations and Sinclair’s Tennis Channel and subscribers to AT&Ts’ DirecTV, U-verse and AT&T TV Now.

AT&T has recently faced blackouts with CBS and with Nexstar Media stations and Sinclair said the way those negotiations played out should concern subscribers.

“AT&T is the largest MVPD in the country and seems intent on using its tremendous market power to dictate to viewers which programming from other content providers they can receive, even as they continue to acquire content providers and push their own content to viewers,” stated David Gibber, Sinclair’s senior VP and general counsel. “Despite the tremendous market power of AT&T, most consumers of AT&T and DirecTV do have some other alternatives to receive our in-demand programming. Although it would be unfortunate to lose AT&T and DirecTV as customers, we are simply not prepared to sell our programming to them at the below market rates they are demanding due to their overwhelming market power.”

By Sinclair's calculations if AT&T does not reach an agreement with Sinclair, almost 25% of AT&T’s subscribers will have suffered blackouts in the past two months.

AT&T recently said the blackouts and price increases will mean an additional 300,000 to 350,000 in lost subscribers in the quarter.

Sinclair said it will continue to negotiate in good faith with AT&T and try to avoid stations being dropped. “But AT&T’s pattern of insistence on terms that greatly undervalue the content of local broadcasters will deplete the availability of diversity of content, including local content, for viewers, the company said. 

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.