It's Time For TV Blackouts - Enjoy TV, On Your Laptop

It’s another season of TV station blackouts — or potential ones. Those nasty corporate battle headlines are here — just not the TV dramas consumers are looking for.

Summertime, as well as the end-of-the-year holiday period — can bring such corporate activity. The latter can even hold some networks hostage when it comes to consumer interest in big-time sports programming: the NFL and college football games.

CBS recently jumped into the fray, via a press release, to talk about its discussions with AT&T for carriage on its DirecTV, DirecTV Now and U-verse pay TV services. DirecTV remains the biggest traditional U.S. pay TV platform with 19 million subscribers.

CBS says it is “negotiating resolutely and in good faith” -- but then adds that AT&T “continues to propose unfair terms well below those agreed to by its competitors and may drop CBS unless we agree to those terms.”



Its deal with AT&T expires July 19 and impacts its owned-and-operated stations in big U.S. markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas.

CBS aside, AT&T is already busy with an existing blackout of TV stations, owned by Nexstar Media Group, one of the biggest U.S. TV station companies. This blackout affects 17 stations in 14 markets. Plus, AT&T is also suing the aptly named Max Retrans, a consultant for several TV stations when it comes to retransmission negotiations.

What’s going on?

Analysts says, for one, AT&T wants to pare down all the corporate debt from its buying binge of recent years. The company says it is "on the side of customer choice and value.”

DirecTV competitor Dish Network is having its own battle with TV stations owned by Meredith Corp. Dish Network customers in 12 television markets in 18 states are now affected by a blackout.

In 2019, TV station blackouts have totaled 213 so far, according to the American Television Alliance, an industry group representing pay TV providers. There were 165 for all of 2018.

The continuing question: What does this means to consumers in the modern TV world? Do any of these blackouts push more “cord-cutting”? And if so, where are they going? Choices won’t be easy.

Many traditional pay TV providers — cable, satellite and telcos — have already launched "alternative" streaming pay TV services: Dish Network’s Sling TV and DirecTV’s DirecTV Now, to name two. For its part, CBS has its own CBS All Access.

There are other options for consumers. Signing up for, say, Netflix, or buying a digital antenna. If that doesn’t work, Locast, a nonprofit organization, enables local broadcast stations to be viewed digitally within their specific markets.

Consumers may have choices in the future, with future blackouts increasingly seen as inconveniences. If so, what remains for traditional linear TV relationships — and their battling press releases?

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