AT&T hits back at Sinclair’s ‘egregious demands’ in carriage dispute

AT&T sign
The current agreement between AT&T and Sinclair was set to expire in August, but has been extended until Sept. 27 at 5 p.m. EST. (Mike Mozart/Flickr)

AT&T’s current retransmission consent dispute with Sinclair is developing into a war of words, as AT&T hits back at Sinclair’s “egregious demands.”

Sinclair on Friday issued a statement warning DirecTV, U-verse and AT&T TV Now subscribers that they could lose access to 136 television stations in 86 markets, along with cable networks like The Tennis Channel, could go dark due to “AT&T’s unwillingness to negotiate fair market carriage licenses.”

Now AT&T has returned fire and said that Sinclair routinely threatens or shuts off access to its broadcast television footprint and its more than 20 regional sports networks to “drive up what it collects for content that is offered free over the air.”

“It’s disingenuous for Sinclair to denounce AT&T’s market power when Sinclair, like all broadcasters, enjoys an antiquated, statutorily created monopoly for its products,” said AT&T in a statement. “Not surprisingly given its market power, Sinclair has made egregious demands for broad carriage and payment on one of the most expensive single-team RSNs ever with the Cubs in Chicago; for carriage of multiple cable channels that don’t even exist or that Sinclair hopes to someday acquire; and for RSNs that aren’t even up for renewal – just to name a few.”

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“Make no mistake. Sinclair alone controls whether or not its stations remain available on any providers’ lineup. And here, yet again, Sinclair has chosen to take its negotiations public, putting our customers into the middle so it can demand ever increasing and unjustified fees and enforce unwarranted limitations on our customers’ choices,” the company continued.

The current agreement between AT&T and Sinclair was set to expire in August, but has been extended until Sept. 27 at 5 p.m. EST. Sinclair said the deal that is in place was set in 2016, and doesn’t represent current fair market value for the company’s channels.

It’s not uncommon for operators and programmers to enter into public arguments over carriage disputes, and AT&T has recently engaged in disputes with CBS, Disney and Nexstar Media. AT&T has said that its negotiating strategy with programmers will lower costs but could result in an incremental 300,000 to 350,000 premium video losses above the second quarter’s premium video results, which could push subscriber losses well into the millions.