Cox Media Group (CMG) TV stations have been pulled from DirecTV systems after the two companies could not reach a new retransmission consent agreement.
Specifically, 12 CMG stations in nine markets went dark on the operator’s DirecTV satellite service, its virtual MVPD DirecTV Stream, and U-Verse system, over the weekend. DirecTV said the move is a familiar one for CMG and contends the broadcaster is seeking unreasonable fees for the right to transmit its stations and programming to customers. DirecTV said Cox rejected the latest extension offer but both sides continue to negotiate.
“CMG is playing chicken with the industry, willfully ignoring the economics that its programming does not warrant a double-digit annual rate increase on top of an already exorbitant fee structure,” wrote DirecTV in a message to customers. “By pulling its stations, CMG intends to penalize its viewers twice – once when pulling the programming and again when they return it at an unwarranted higher rate – adding insult to injury.”
DirecTV pointed out that CMG blacked out its stations on the pay TV provider’s systems during the last renewal agreement in 2021, with signals restored just ahead of the 2021 Super Bowl. The pay TV provider also suggested it’s a common tactic, noting Cox stations have been down on Dish Network systems for over a year since November 2022, while the broadcaster has threatened or pulled signals from others like Comcast and Fubo TV in recent years.
Retransmission consent disputes have become more common as station owners and distributors clash over rising rates, which are often passed on to consumers through their monthly bills, alongside continued declines in pay TV viewership. According to DirecTV, the cost of retransmission consent fees have increased 270% since 2015, with the average cost of broadcast stations in a pay TV package at $5.37 per month in 2015 and rising to now $19.85 per month, On the flip side, broadcasters tend to assert they’re seeking fair market-based rate increases for the right to transmit their local signals and programming.
Channel blackouts from retrans and carriage disagreements have risen to the attention of lawmakers and regulators. The FCC last month proposed requiring cable and satellite TV operators to provide rebates to customers who are impacted by channel blackouts, saying consumers aren’t getting the services they paid for when they don’t get access to their full channel lineup. Some groups, specifically the American Television Alliance, pushed back, arguing the FCC is proposing to penalize the wrong party for channel blackouts, contending broadcasters bear the blame and burden for disputes that result in a loss of programming.
“In proposing to require cable and satellite companies to offer refunds when they refuse to meet broadcasters' outrageous pricing demands, the FCC seeks to punish the wrong set of parties,” said ATVA spokesperson Cora Mandy in a statement last month. “In doing so, it will cause higher bills for the consumers it hopes to protect.”
According to ATVA, there were 200 channel blackouts in 2023 because of retrans rate disputes.
DirecTV amid an earlier dispute acknowledged a willingness to find alternative solutions that could take broadcasters out of the mix. Specifically, during a negotiation dispute and channel blackout with Tegna, DirecTV’s content chief Robert Thun told StreamTV Insider it was considering an approach that would replace missing broadcast stations with national network feeds.
“We don’t need the stations to deliver the network content – we can go get it from the network,” Thun affirmed in early December. “So, why don’t we work on that construct? And, by the way, we’ve had those conversations with the networks.”
To that end, STV later confirmed a quiet test by DirecTV that transmitted national network feeds of NBC programming in a handful of areas where Tegna owns a local affiliate. DirecTV and Tegna in January struck a multi-year deal that covered the broadcaster’s 64 owned stations and returned programming to DirecTV customers in 51 markets.
In messaging to consumers about the Cox dispute, DirecTV launched a website where customers can find information on where to watch the same programming for free with over-the-air content, including through local station websites and via network streaming apps.