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CBS 17 is still dark on AT&T, and now the cable carrier has taken on the network

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Millions of AT&T and DirecTV customers across the country haven’t been able to watch CBS since July 20, a situation Triangle viewers have been dealing with even longer.

This latest dispute involves CBS-owned stations in markets like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, Tampa, Seattle, Detroit, Minneapolis, Miami, Denver, Sacramento, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The New York Times reports that the outage affects 6.5 million AT&T customers across the country, and includes users of AT&T U-verse, DirecTV and the streaming service DirecTV Now.

The local outage involves a contract dispute with Nexstar, the parent company of WNCN (or CBS 17), and affects 120 Nexstar stations across the country (but not all of those stations are CBS affiliates). AT&T cut off Nexstar stations on July 4.

WNCN vice president and general manager Byron Grandy said on Friday that there are no updates in the negotiations between AT&T and Nexstar.

In regard to the dispute with CBS-owned affiliates, a statement from CBS on July 20 said that the company “made every effort to avoid this blackout,” but that it wouldn’t agree to terms that “undervalue our hit programming.”

AT&T called CBS, which according to Nielsen ratings is the most-watched network in the country, a “repeat blackout offender.”

In 2017, AT&T/DirecTV dropped WRAL and Fox 50, both owned by Capitol Broadcasting, and the dispute lasted for almost three months before service was restored.

Mohu antennas, made by Raleigh based company, were distributed to AT&T U-verse customers at a makeshift drive through in the PNC Arena parking lot in 2017.

Will the AT&T-CBS dispute be resolved?

A report in the Dallas Morning News this week predicted the CBS vs. AT&T fight may not be resolved any time soon.

The Dallas article quoted the National Association of Broadcasters president and CEO Gordon Smith, from a speech this week in Washington: “AT&T and DISH’s strategy appears to be to force retrans[mission] disruptions, then cry to Congress that ‘the system is broken’ in hopes that Congress will add an amendment to reauthorization legislation of STELAR to ‘reform’ retransmission consent.”

The argument with CBS — as with CBS 17 owner, Nexstar — is over retransmission fees.

Carriers like AT&T and Charter (which owns Spectrum) pay cable networks and TV station owners a monthly license fee to carry their signals.

CBS and Nexstar are both asking for a higher rate, but the terms of the requests have not been disclosed.

In a news release sent July 11, AT&T said that Nexstar was “demanding to roughly double its fees.” Nexstar said in a release that it has “offered AT&T/DIRECTV the same rates it offered to other large distribution partners with whom it completed successful negotiations with in 2019 to date.”

What are viewers missing on CBS?

Right now the biggest CBS shows not in repeats include “Big Brother,” “60 Minutes,” “Love Island” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” But new fall shows start soon, and it won’t be long before we’re into college football and the NFL season.

College football starts in late August and there are a few games on the schedule listed for the CBS Sports Network. That channel is also unavailable to AT&T customers affected by the national outage.

The NFL season kicks off Sept. 5, and games will air on CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN.

The new fall TV season for broadcast network shows starts around Sept. 13, but right now the first CBS premiere on the schedule is for Sept. 23.

How to watch CBS without cable

As we have previously noted, viewers can still get CBS programming with an over-the-air antenna, sold at big box stores such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target, and also from Amazon.

For TV viewers so inclined, this could be the first step to cutting the cord.

Pair the antenna with a strong internet connection and a subscription to a streaming service such as YouTube TV or Hulu Live (there are many options now), and these carriage disputes could be someone else’s problem.

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Brooke Cain is a North Carolina native who has worked at The News & Observer for more than 20 years. She writes about TV and local media for the Happiness is a Warm TV blog, and answers CuriousNC questions for readers.
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