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Spectrum, Tribune Broadcasting reach 'impasse' in contract negotiations

Cary Ashby • Jan 4, 2019 at 2:00 AM

If you want to watch the NFL National Football Conference wild-card game Saturday night on FOX 8 (WJW Cleveland), you may be out of luck.

After a dispute went past the contract deadline, 33 Tribune Broadcasting TV stations in 24 markets have gone dark on Charter Spectrum cable systems. Deadline Hollywood reported the decision is affecting about 6 million viewers.

On Monday, Tribune and Spectrum extended the New Year’s Eve deadline of the current contract until 5 p.m.  Wednesday, but then announced they hadn’t reached an agreement, according to Deadline Hollywood. 

Upon tuning into FOX 8, Norwalk-area viewers were met with a lengthy prepared statement from Spectrum that went on a repeating cycle over several screens.

Tribune Broadcasting, the owner of this FOX channel, has removed their programming from Spectrum to create hardship for our customers while we are negotiating in good faith to reach a fair agreement,” according to the beginning of the statement.

“Tribune is demanding a ridiculous increase — they want us to pay three times our current rate to carry the same programming. We offered a fair price and they insist we pay them materially more than any other of the 1,700 broadcast stations we carry.

“We don’t think it’s fair that they are demanding high fee increases, especially since their programming is provided free with a TV antenna and and much of it is available for free on the internet,” according to Spectrum.

“Tribune is seeking excessive fees for its broadcast station as well as forcing consumers to pay for networks like WGN, which very few people watch. Spectrum has already offered Tribune compensation for their channel that is consistent with other what other companies get for these stations, but is not good enough for them.

“This is how Tribune Broadcasting operates. Driven by greed, they’ve pulled their channels for other distributors over the recent years as a negotiating tactic,” according to the Spectrum statement.

“Spectrum is in your side and fighting to keep your costs down. The rising cost of programming is the single greatest factor in higher cable price and we are fighting hard to hold the line on programming rates imposed on us by groups like Tribune Broadcasting. Spectrum has offered a fair proposal, with fee increases that are well above inflation and the cost of living for the same programming. We asked to extend the negotiations to reach a fair deal, keeping programming in place. We are very disappointed with their decision to pull their channels, which is negatively impacting our customers.”

The statement ends with Spectrum thanking its customers for their patience.

“Our negotiations are about one thing: reaching an agreement that is fair to our customers. We hope to be able to return this programming soon.”

Gary Weitman, Tribune Media senior vice president for corporate relations, has said the company is “extremely disappointed” to not have an agreement on renewing its contract with Spectrum.

“We’ve offered Spectrum fair market rates for our top-rated local news, live sports and high-quality entertainment programming and similarly fair rates for our cable network (and) WGN America. … (Spectrum) has refused our offer and failed to negotiate in a meaningful fashion,” the spokesman told Deadline Hollywood.

Spectrum, in a counter statement, called the impasse “unfortunate” and accused Tribune of “demanding an increase of more than double what we pay today for the same programming.”

“That is more than we pay any other broadcaster. They’re not being reasonable,” according to the Spectrum statement.

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