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Tribune, DirecTV Near Retrans Deal

DirecTV is inching closer to a retransmission consent deal with Tribune Co., hoping to avert a blackout that would darken its 16 TV stations in some of the top television markets in the country.

According to DirecTV, both sides were deep into negotiations Friday afternoon, with the hopes that a deal could be worked out before the midnight March 31 deadline.

DirecTV and Tribune had been at an impasse for the past week leading up to the deadline. Tribune owns 23 stations across the country but the dispute involved its national cable network (WGN America) and 16 of its broadcast properties, including independent stations and Fox, ABC and The CW affiliates in major markets like New York (WPIX-TV); Los Angeles (KTLA-TV), Denver (KWGN-TV); Philadelphia (WPHL-TV) and New Orleans (WGNO-TV).

The dispute was a little different than typical retrans scuffles in that Tribune claimed it was the first time that the broadcaster had asked for cash compensation from the satellite giant. Although it has charged affiliate fees for WGN America, according to some reports in the past those fees also included compensation for the stations.

Carving out fees for the individual stations probably became more important in the past several years since Tribune filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008. Tribune has sold off some assets as it winds through that process - including its interests in Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs and some newspapers like Newsday in the New York market. While Tribune has said the TV stations will form the core of the company upon its successful emergence from bankruptcy protection, having cash retrans deals in place will only add to the stations' value.

The negotiations come as opening day of the Major League Baseball regular season approaches on April 5. Several Tribune stations carry MLB games, including WPIX-TV (New York Mets), WGN-TV (Cubs) and WPHL (Philadelphia Phillies).