TV News & Reviews

Yes, AT&T settled its dispute with CBS. But that doesn’t help local viewers.

Trailer: NCIS ‘Ziva Returns’

Watch the trailer for the much anticipated episode of NCIS "Ziva Returns".
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Watch the trailer for the much anticipated episode of NCIS "Ziva Returns".

When AT&T reached a deal last week restoring CBS channels to approximately 6.5 million U-verse and DirecTV viewers across the country, it meant nothing to local viewers who have been without their CBS station since July 4.

Last week’s deal applied specifically to CBS-owned affiliates and is a separate dispute from AT&T’s fight with Nexstar, the parent company of CBS 17 (WNCN). That dispute affects 120 Nexstar stations across the country (but not all of those stations are CBS affiliates). Nexstar also owns WNCT in Greenville, NC.

AT&T owns DirecTV, a satellite service, and DirecTV Now, a streaming service recently rebranded to AT&T TV Now.

(In a separate negotiation, AT&T is also in talks with ESPN to carry the new ACC Network on U-verse. As of right now, U-verse is not a listed carrier for the network, set to debut Aug. 22, but DirecTV is. There has been no update provided on those negotiations.)

Elizabeth Ryder, Nexstar’s executive vice president and general counsel, told the Lansing (Michigan) State Journal newspaper in an email last week that “negotiations are ongoing.” The paper reported that in an email on July 24, Ryder suggested AT&T or DirecTV customers upset about losing access to Nexstar stations switch to a different cable provider.

In a second quarter earnings call with investors on the same day that Ryder suggested switching carriers, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson implied that an agreement with Nexstar could “take a while,” the State Journal reported.

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

Ryder told The News & Observer via email on Aug. 13: “We are continuing to negotiate with AT&T/DirecTV. We hope to reach an agreement soon. When asked, we suggest either an antenna or changing providers.”

An AT&T spokesperson told The News & Observer on Aug. 13: “We continue to trade proposals with Nexstar and will not negotiate through the press.”

Why are AT&T and Nexstar fighting?

The dispute with Nexstar is over retransmission fees. Carriers like AT&T, Charter (which owns Spectrum) and DISH pay cable networks and TV station owners a monthly license fee to carry their signals.

Nexstar is asking for a higher rate, but the exact terms of the request have not been disclosed. But in a news release sent July 11, AT&T said that Nexstar was “demanding to roughly double its fees.” The Lansing State Journal reports that the transcript from Stephenson’s July 24 call with investors indicated Nexstar wanted a 50 percent increase.

Nexstar said in a July statement 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,” “Instinct” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” But new fall shows start soon, including the highly anticipated return of Ziva on “NCIS” (that show returns Sept. 24).

And of course, 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 should be available to Nexstar viewers.

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. They are pretty easy to hook up, if you have a TV purchased in the past 10 to 15 years.

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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