Driving the usual retrans rhetoric to the level of explosive allegation, Raycom Media has accused AT&T of strategically enabling a blackout of Raycom stations on its U-verse platform in order to drive customers to DirecTV.
“AT&T U-Verse, now combined with DirecTV, appears to be using programming disruptions as an opportunity to switch AT&T U-Verse customers to its DirecTV service,” Raycom said in a statement. “When disgruntled AT&T U-Verse subscribers call to lodge a complaint, they are offered a subscription with DirecTV, the very same company as AT&T. In some instances, subscribers are also pushed to DirecTV Now, a service that in many markets does not carry any local broadcast affiliates.”
AT&T responded with this statement: “Raycom Media determines whether or not its stations remain in our U-verse customers’ lineups. We have asked Raycom numerous times to leave their stations up, and once they took them down, to put them back up. We have offered to compensate Raycom--even when out of contract--for events like the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament where a program of key interest is at risk. Our challenge to Raycom stands--put your local stations back on and we will compensate you while we work privately to settle this issue. It’s also important for our customers to know that--other than Raycom--we have no other blackouts across the 21 states U-verse serves.”
The broadcaster said it’s the fifth Raycom blackout on U-verse since AT&T closed on its DirecTV purchase in August 2015. Raycom said there had been no U-verse interruptions prior to AT&T’s merger with the satellite TV company.
U-verse customers in 23 states are impacted. This most recent blackout started on March 15.
"Maintaining our connection to our local communities is always the goal in our negotiations. Raycom Media offered three extensions through this negotiation process in an effort to continue our negotiations without affecting our viewers on the AT&T U-Verse system," said Raycom President and CEO Pat LaPlatney, in the statement. "In the last three years, Raycom Media has successfully negotiated retransmission consent agreements with 99.5% of operators without an interruption in service. It's difficult to negotiate an agreement if that is not part of the AT&T U-Verse business plan."
AT&T has made no secret of its desire to migrate customers from its legacy U-verse video platform to DirecTV.
U-verse lost 1.359 million video customers in 2016, while DirecTED added 1.228 million subscribers. U-verse’s video subscriber base now stands at only 4.281 million, while DirecTV has 21.012 million customers.