Pay-TV operator DirecTV managed to seriously upset subscribers in and around North Dakota when it took down three ABC-affiliated stations just moments before the NBA Finals (on June 2nd) were due to start.
The 3 stations are owned by Forum Communications in Fargo, North Dakota and broadcast from the towns of Fargo, Bismark and Devils Lake.
A retransmission agreement between Forum and AT&T-owned DirecTV expired on March 31st, and was extended until June 1st. Forum says the price it wants from DirecTV is “less than a cheap cup of coffee a month”.
The spat comes to down to stations seeking to charge extra fees for satellite transmission even when the ground-based signals are available free to viewers without a fee.
AT&T says that Forum is demanding a “significant” increase in fees: “We intend to get Forum Communications’ three local stations back into North Dakota customers’ lineups and [we] share their frustration. Forum is prohibiting its signals from reaching these customers’ homes unless they receive a significant increase in their current fees just to let the same families keep watching shows that remain available for free over-the-air and often online.”
Forum, in its “Attention DirecTV Customers” message, stated: “Unfortunately, notwithstanding our best effort to reach a new agreement, DirecTV is choosing not to provide you with our award-winning, highly rated stations.”
Forum added that despite sending its proposals to DirecTV on January 27th DirecTV “refused to even start negotiating a new agreement until May 16th – almost four months later. We gave DirecTV two extensions of time to avoid a service disruption, but to no avail. Unfortunately, DirecTV has been unwilling to come to the table as of this date with a competitive proposal.”
Forum explained that the DirecTV dispute was about more than just money. “We are trying to abide by our network affiliation agreements and the limitations of our copyrights, but DirecTV is making unreasonable and self-serving demands—demands, in fact, no other pay-TV company has made on us. DirecTV is demanding that we give it certain rights which, by law, we do not now have, and it is demanding the right to strip out part of our signal and deny DirecTV subscribers access to all of the programming we are offering—programming incidentally, we have offered to DirecTV for free.”