The countdown to the Super Bowl on Fox is on, but Northwest Broadcasting and DirecTV are barely speaking in their ongoing retransmission consent standoff, which has resulted in multiple Fox stations going dark for subscribers to the satellite TV service.
Northwest Broadcasting-owned stations WICZ-WBPN Binghamton (N.Y.) , KMVU Medford (Ore.), KFFX Yakima and KAYU Spokane went dark for DirecTV subscribers as the new year rolled in, with Northwest and DirecTV disagreeing dramatically on how much DirecTV should pay for the stations' signals.
The negotiations have been taking place at the top. Northwest President/CEO Brian Brady, also Fox affiliates board chairman, spoke on the phone with DirecTV Chairman/President/CEO Mike White January 21. But the two parties are far apart, and no negotiations are scheduled at the moment.
"This doesn't appear to be getting anywhere," said Brady yesterday. "We made multiple offers that have been rejected."
DirecTV, meanwhile, is standing by a statement it issued late last week. "Since both sides seem to be spinning their wheels at the moment, we ask Northwest to restore their channels and to let an independent arbitrator resolve this matter," said DirecTV Senior V.P. of Programming Acquisition Dan Hartman in the statement. "This solution will end consumer disruption and allow for an independent, unbiased, third-party to decide the value of their channels."
Brady says arbitration is not an option, as he believes the process of an arbitrator determining a given station's value, based on market size and previous retrans deals, can be erroneous. Other broadcasters may not have pushed for maximum value for their stations, he notes, making previous retrans pacts inaccurate benchmarks.
"I just think arbitration doesn't really work," he says.
DirecTV points out the amicable deals it's worked out to keep dozens of stations on the air, suggesting Northwest's demands are way off the mark. "Northwest is the odd man out," says a spokesperson.
Brady says broadcasters have to stand their ground when it comes to negotiating with subscription TV operators for the stations' signals. "It all comes down to value," he says. "There's a serious divide between what each of us thinks the value of that television station is."
All the affected stations but WBPN are Fox affiliates, meaning DirecTV viewers may have to work out a Plan B for watching the Super Bowl February 6. Viewers are bombarding both the satellite TV carrier and the broadcaster with complaints, and flooding the broadcastingcable.com "Talkback" board as well; most Talkback commenters finger Northwest as the culprit, though they have ample venom for both companies.
"I cannot believe the timing of this decision! Right in the middle of NFL Playoffs!" wrote Stacy Schilz of Pasco, WA. "Seems interesting to me that all the other local stations I get through Directv were not affected. Do the right thing...and restore the channel. Greedy much???"
Northwest has shown its willingness to dig in its heels in the past, with KAYU Spokane going dark for Time Warner Cable customers for over a year in 2006-2007. Brady says this one might take a while too.
"I think [DirecTV] is prepared to be off for a long time," he says.