Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) has asked Sunbeam and DirecTV to publicly state that whatever happens in its ongoing retrans impasse, DirecTV subs will have access to the Super Bowl broadcast on Sunbeam's NBC affiliate -- WHDH Boston.
Actually, only WHDH can assure that, since it is DirecTV's contract to carry the station that has expired without a renewal.
But Kerry says he thinks it would alleviate the anxiety of Patriots fans for them to issue a public statement that the game will not be blacked out. "I want every bar owner and family in our region with a subscription to DirecTV to know that they will not become collateral damage in a dispute leveraged up against the most important game of the NFL season."
While it is the value of broadcast programming to cable operators that is a station's bargaining position in retrans, Sunbeam did agree to lift the blackout so viewers could watch the NFL playoff game last week.
In a statement, DirecTV said it would be happy to announce that the stations would be back up during the duration of the negotiations. "DirecTV continues to stand ready to put all three of Sunbeam's stations back on immediately while we negotiate so that customers in both cities can receive their local programming and so that customers in the Boston area can enjoy the upcoming Super Bowl," said DirecTV. "We await confirmation from Sunbeam Television that they are onboard with Senator Kerry's solution."
In his letter to Ansin and DirecTV President Michael White, Kerry pointed out that if past is prologue, they will reach a deal by the day of the game, so it would behoove them to let the 200,000 or so DirecTV viewers in the Boston environs know the game will not be blacked out regardless so that "our constituents who are unfamiliar with this almost annual game of high-stakes corporate chicken will [not] have to scramble to find another way to watch the game." He called that eventuality unfair and unnecessary.
He said he could not force them to keep the game on, but "strongly urged" them to do so, and said he would keep pushing the FCC to make sure that high-profile events aren't used as chips in the high-stakes retrans game.
Kerry sent a letter last week to the parties urging resolution, as well as one to the FCC asking it to step in to make sure the parties were negotiating in good faith toward resolution of a deal.
An FCC spokesman had no comment on Kerry's and others', calls for the FCC to get involved. A commission source said the parties continue to keep the Media Bureau informed of the status of negotiations, as has been the custom in past high-profile disputes.