First it was Suddenlink customers in the Greenville-Greenwood market who temporarily lost access to various local channels, including those that aired the NFL playoff games.
Now, on the eve of the Super Bowl, the same is happening to DirecTV customers.
Since Tuesday, DirecTV customers in markets throughout the country have been without access to channels owned by Cox Media Group after Cox and AT&T, DirecTV’s parent company, failed to reach a deal on fees paid to Cox for the rights to carry the channels.
For customers in the Greenville-Greenwood market, this means they do not have access to the local CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC channels. CBS is airing Sunday’s matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The standoff also means that DirecTV customers do not have access to broadcasts from the Greenville-based Delta News station, which airs its local programming across the four dropped channels.
The channels can still be watched over the air through an antenna for free or through streaming apps.
However, AT&T said in a press release it was willing to pay Cox and Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm and the principal owner of Cox, “any higher rates the two sides eventually agree upon for Sunday’s entire 24-hour schedule so local fans can enjoy the NFL championship game.”
But on Friday evening, DirecTV customers still did not have access to channels.
A representative with the AT&T office in Greenwood declined to comment or provide figures for the number of DirecTV customers in the city.
According to AT&T’s statement, Cox has a history of trying to use the leverage of the year’s most watched sporting events to extract much higher rates from TV providers. It claims the same squeeze play was used against other providers during the NFL playoffs or Super Bowl in 2017, 2018 and 2020.
A request for comment from Cox’s media relations team by email was not returned Friday.
AT&T said in the release that it would not agree to Cox’s “ultimatum for significantly more compensation than ever before for the less popular station.”
On its website, the Delta News station posted a statement as well as a video putting the blame on AT&T and DirecTV for failing to reach a deal with its owner, Cox, and urging affected customers to call DirecTV to demand their dropped channels back.
“We cannot force AT&T/DirecTV to keep retransmitting our stations — we are dark because AT&T/DirecTV has chosen to remove WABG, Delta FOX10, WNBC & WXVT from its service,” Delta News’ statement reads. “We are hopeful that AT&T/DirecTV will abandon its blackout of our stations to the detriment of viewers in favor of meaningful negotiations that lead to a mutually beneficial deal for all parties.”
However, in a letter dated Friday from Rob Thun, executive vice president and chief content officer of AT&T, to Larry Cazavan, general manager for WXVT, Thun said the CBS affiliate and its owner, Cox, have “exclusive control over whether or not your station remains in the DirecTV or AT&T TV lineups.”
Going on, Thun wrote, “All we need is your permission — even temporarily — and we can have WXVT back into our Greenwood and Greenville customers’ homes within moments. It’s really as simple as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on your part.”
Thun also wrote that if WXVT, Cox and Apollo agree to return the local CBS channel on Sunday, at least for the duration of the Super Bowl, AT&T would “agree to compensate WXVT for Sunday’s entire 24-hour schedule rather than the approximate three-hour duration of actual in-game action and also apply any new retransmission consent fee to which we eventually agree.”
The situation with DirecTV mirrors last month’s dispute between Suddenlink and Cox, when the two companies also could not agree on fees paid to Cox and Suddenlink customers ended up losing access to Cox channels starting Jan. 8.The two companies were eventually able to reach a deal and by Jan. 28 Suddenlink customers once again had access to channels owned by Cox.
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