Programming from the television network CBS dropped off the dial for some Anniston-area viewers last week, following a dispute between station owners and a satellite TV provider.
Each company is accusing the other of using “hostage” tactics in keeping WIAT CBS 42 off the air — but it’s not clear that viewers are interested in taking a side.
“Today we’re in a world where TVs are being made to connect directly to the Internet,” said Jeff Kagan, a Georgia-based telecommunications analyst. “My kids are grown up and gone out into the world — and none of them have cable TV.”
Users of the satellite TV network DirecTV woke on Independence Day to find WIAT dropped from the channels on their television. According to a corporate statement posted on the station’s website, the lapse was due to contract negotiations that collapsed on July 3.
WIAT is owned by Nexstar Media, a company that owns 120 broadcast stations across the country, covering all the major broadcast networks — CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox and CW. In the company’s official announcement, Nexstar said DirecTV “unilaterally” walked out of negotiations when the company’s contract ended on July 3, even though Nexstar had offered a one-month extension to offer new terms.
“Nexstar regrets that DirecTV is willing to hold its paying subscribers hostage because it won’t agree to fair and reasonable terms,” Nexstar’s statement read.
In its own statement DirecTV argues that NexStar is asking for more money for broadcast channels that fewer people are watching.
“CBS broadcast network content aired by WIAT-CBS ... has lost about half its primetime audience over the past five years,” DirecTV’s statement read.
It’s unclear just how much money Nexstar was seeking to renew the contract. Jennifer Neuman, a representative of Nexstar, declined comment in a telephone interview Monday, referring a reporter back to the company’s prepared statement.
DirecTV is among the top subscription TV services in the country, according to the Internet and Television Association, a trade association for the industry. WIAT’s broadcast footprint covers an area from Oxford in the east to Tuscaloosa in the west, according to Federal Communications Commission maps. The CBS station is the only Nexstar-owned station in Alabama.
Both companies seem to be trying to enlist viewers in their battle, with Nexstar urging viewers to call DirecTV and DirecTV, in its own statements, reminding viewers they can see much of the content from CBS on the Internet.
Kagan said that’s a typical strategy in these disputes.
“When people can’t get their channels, they typically go to the people they pay,” he said. “That’s the cable provider.”
The Anniston area has seen cable carrier disputes in the past, but they’ve typically attracted significant attention only when viewers’ access to major sports events is at stake.Six years ago, local Cable One viewers were surprised to find themselves blocked out of the Major League Baseball playoffs. The following year, the cable company had football fans on edge as itdecided whether to carry the SEC Network.
“If this happened with a popular sports channel or during the Super Bowl or World Series, the pressure would be enormous,” Kagan said.