In an open letter to the roughly six million subscribers of Charter’s Spectrum pay-TV service who are currently without Tribune Broadcasting affiliates in 24 markets, Tribune CEO Peter Kern blasted Charter for offering a “false picture” of the companies’ carriage negotiations.
The blackout is in its fifth day after the parties were unable to reach a new deal. On the afternoon of January 2, Charter responded to the expiration of the contract by running pointed on-screen messages to subscribers, complaining of Tribune’s requests for steep rate increases.
Sports, as always, are a major draw that is unavailable to millions of subscribers. The 33 affected Tribune stations, which are a mix of CBS, Fox and CW affiliates, would have carried NFL playoff games over the weekend, as well as college basketball. Beyond sports, the return of original episodes in the CW’s primetime lineup is also now threatened, with affiliates in major markets like New York and LA among the unplugged. Tribune’s WGNAmerica has been blacked out in 14 million homes.
In the letter, Kern says Tribune “worked tirelessly” to make sure programming did not get interrupted. He blames Charter, the No. 2 U.S. cable operator, for misrepresenting the bargaining position of Tribune in its messages to customers.
“We are not asking for triple or double the rates for our programming,” he wrote. “We are asking only for a fair deal, one that is comparable to what every other cable and satellite TV provider pays us for our content. Spectrum, on the other hand, is a huge goliath of a company with over $43 billion in annual revenue and over $10 billion in annual profits — it is using its scale and all of you to try to pressure us to take less than a fair price. The reality is that what Spectrum is saying on TV and online about our negotiations is simply false.”
In a statement responding to the letter, Charter said, “While negotiations with Tribune continue, customers can find NFL games on the NFL and Yahoo Sports mobile apps and on NFL Deportes.” It added that other programming could be found online, over the air and, in certain regions, through a not-for-profit streaming service for local stations called Locast.
Tribune Broadcasting parent Tribune Media is set to be acquired by Nexstar in a pending deal valued at $4.1 billion. The acquisition will make Nexstar the No. 1 owner of local TV stations in the U.S., surpassing Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose own deal to acquire Tribune fell apart last summer.
Word of the Tribune-Spectrum negotiations first surfaced in late December, just as Disney and Verizon Fios publicly squared off in similar fashion, though those companies have since resolved their dispute. While 2018 finished with fewer blackouts than 2017, it yielded several high-profile impasses. Among them were a bruising one between Starz and Altice and separate, months-long standoffs between Dish Network and Univision and Dish and HBO that remain unresolved.
Here is the full text of Kern’s letter:
Thank you for reaching out to Tribune and for your passion for our content. I wish I could
respond to each of you individually on your particular comments about our dispute with
Spectrum, but the volume of email makes that impossible.
We at Tribune Media are deeply disappointed that you have been unable to enjoy our toprated news, sports, and entertainment programming via Spectrum’s cable systems.
Throughout these negotiations we have worked tirelessly to try to make sure our
programming was available to you on an uninterrupted basis.
Spectrum’s acts since the disruption began have given you a false picture of our
negotiation. We are not asking for triple or double the rates for our programming. We are
asking only for a fair deal, one that is comparable to what every other cable and satellite TV
provider pays us for our content.
Spectrum, on the other hand, is a huge goliath of a company with over $43 billion in annual
revenue and over $10 billion in annual profits—it is using its scale and all of you to try to
pressure us to take less than a fair price. The reality is that what Spectrum is saying on TV
and online about our negotiations is simply false.
Spectrum believes that as a much smaller company, we will give in to their tactics.
Unfortunately, doing that would leave us with fewer resources to invest in programming
for you. We have tried to take the high road – we have not called them names or accused
them of anything. But, at our heart, we are an information company and we don’t want our
viewers misinformed any longer.
We will keep working to resolve this situation and we will keep fighting to bring you great
content. We want nothing more than to have a good working relationship with Spectrum
and to get our channels back on the air at a fair price.
Thank you for your time, and for your loyalty to the programming we work so hard to bring
you. We hope to have it restored soon.
Chief Executive Officer
Tribune Media Company