Confusion. Frustration. False hope.
Judging by my emails and conversation on social networks, that’s what local DirecTV subscribers are experiencing because they can’t get local CBS affiliate WIVB-TV, and to a lesser degree, CW affiliate WNLO-TV.
They don’t understand why they can’t get CBS affiliate WIVB when they’ve read the satellite service has made a deal with CBS.
I’m here to clear up the confusion.
Yes, AT&T — DirecTV’s owner — announced late last week it has agreed to a multi-year carriage agreement with the CBS Corporation to end the blackout that started July 20 of CBS stations that the network owns. But that’s a separate issue than the one that has kept WIVB and WNLO off of DirecTV since July 4.
The local stations and more than 100 other stations in 97 markets with the same owner are off of DirecTV because of a continuing dispute between the station owner, Nexstar, and AT&T, which owns DirecTV. Those stations include affiliates of CBS, ABC, Fox, NBC and CW.
The confusion has been exacerbated by misinformation that readers tell me they have received.
One reader told me a DirecTV representative told her at the Erie County Fair that a deal has been made and the stations will be back on the air Sept. 1.
That’s hogwash. As soon as a deal is made, the stations will be back on the air immediately. There won’t be any wait until Sept. 1.
The negotiations are secretive and no one at WIVB, other than possibly General Manager Dominic Mancuso, knows how close a deal is to being made.
It is a national issue concerning all Nexstar stations, not a local one only affecting only WIVB.
The question to ask is: Who is winning?
Judging by the July sweeps ratings, certainly not WIVB.
Its news numbers took a big hit in Nielsen, at least partly because the 15% of local viewers who get DirecTV here were blacked out of the satellite service. If Nexstar is experiencing the same problems in other markets, it would seem to have more pressure to make a reasonable deal.
The weak ratings for prime-time network programs in Buffalo also illustrate one of AT&T’s arguments that it is being asked to pay more for product that has taken huge hits in popularity over the last several years.
AT&T, on the other hand, hasn't released figures of how many customers have dropped the service because of the retransmission dispute and headed to cable or just decided to watch over-the-air stations. The more subscribers it has lost, the more pressure it faces to make a reasonable deal.
In summary, there are no winners, just losers.
Of course, there are ways to get WIVB and WNLO news and CBS and CW programs that don’t require having DirecTV and can damage Nexstar’s negotiation power.
The stations are available over the air with a decent outdoor or indoor antenna. About 13 percent of Western New Yorkers still get the stations the old-fashioned way.
WIVB also streams its newscasts live. Anyone with an internet connection and minimal technological skills can move the newscast from their computers to their televisions with a device such as Chromecast. I’m a tech idiot and I move streams from my computer to my TV all the time. As streaming becomes more and more popular and easier to do, Nexstar's argument in the negotiations would likely become weaker.
Additionally, CBS streams some prime-time programs for free, though it can be on a delayed basis.
And then there’s CBS-All Access, which streams new and old CBS series, produces original programs such as “The Good Fight” and carries NFL games for a monthly fee of $5.99. You can get a year of CBS-All Access for the $75 that DirecTV is reportedly offering its subscribers during the dispute with Nexstar.
If DirecTV subscribers fear they will miss the Aug. 23 Bills preseason game against Detroit carried by CBS, they might consider waiting until the week of the game to take up the free one-week trial that CBS All Access offers.
Of course, they can change carriers to get WIVB, WNLO and their network programs. But that comes with a risk because the carrier you switch to today can be the next one to have a dispute in the future with an owner of one of the stations.
As I’ve said before, if I were a DirecTV subscriber, I’d root for AT&T to hold firm and try to minimize the amount of money it will pay Nexstar because the satellite service will assuredly pass on the increased cost to its subscribers.
If I’d have to guess how long this will last, I’d say the start of the NFL season and the new fall TV season.
That’s when the pressure will be on both sides to decide, in the words of a CBS daytime program, “Let’s Make a Deal.”