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Published: Tuesday, 9/2/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

WTOL, 52 others taken off DirecTV in Raycom feud

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo area’s CBS affiliate, WTOL-TV, Channel 11, is one of 53 stations owned by Alabama-based Raycom Media that has gone dark on DirecTV as a result of the two sides failing to agree on a new carriage contract.

Raycom went forward with its plan to remove its station signals from the DirecTV system after midnight on Sunday, issuing a statement that day which said it had been “working with DirecTV to resolve this issue” for three months but had reached an impasse.

According to a statement issued by DirecTV, Raycom was demanding more than twice as much in compensation.

“So when local broadcast stations, sports networks, and other channels want to be paid more for the same channels you already have, we’re going to do everything we can to minimize the impact to your monthly bill,” Mike White, DirecTV president and chief executive officer, said in a video posted on the Internet.

The dispute has similarities to the stalemate over a local NBC affiliate, WNWO-TV, Channel 24, that lasted almost seven months between the station’s owner, Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., and Block Communications Inc., owner of Buckeye CableSystem and The Blade. That dispute ended with a two-year agreement in July. Both parties also agreed to withdraw the complaints they had filed against each other with the Federal Communications Commission.

The big difference is that Raycom has pulled broadcasts from more than 50 stations, not just one.

Fifty-six people had weighed in with comments about the situation on WTOL’s Facebook page as of 9 p.m., many expressing disappointment in Raycom.

“I believe Raycom is the bad guy here,” one person, Michael Mondragon, wrote. “I really hope DirecTV holds their ground.”

Said Chris Papagelis: “Thanks WTOL ... have always liked 11 over 13, but I guess 13ABC is the new local station.”

Tiffany Quisno wrote that she “was so mad when I turned on my TV this morning.”

“Please resolve this. It’s horrible!” she wrote.

Another viewer, Jason Mansfield, said Raycom should “stop being so greedy.”

Malichi Picard called for a boycott of WTOL advertisers until the station is returned to the DirecTV lineup.

Added Paul D Hinds: “Looks like WTOL just lost thousands of dollars in advertising revenue.”

“Just work it out,” wrote Joe Baumgartner.

C.J. Hoyt, WTOL news director, declined to comment.

But Bob Chirdon, WTOL general manager, agreed to field a series of questions The Blade put in writing at his suggestion.

He asked for time to respond so he could run his written answers past Raycom corporate officials.

“We like to deal with things locally here,” he said by phone.

In his written response, Mr. Chirdon said he does not have access to specific figures under negotiation “but I can tell you our parent company is simply asking for what is fair based on the investment we have made in news, weather, technology, and programming to serve this community. We have agreements in place with all the other operators in this market, including Buckeye Cable.”

When asked about DirecTV’s contention that Raycom is demanding more than twice as much compensation, Mr. Chirdon replied: “Broadcast content is expensive to produce. ...”

The dispute means DirecTV customers who wish to watch WTOL 11 “will have to convert to another carrier or receive our signal via an antenna. That includes all local and network programs including news, sports, CBS primes, and syndicated programming such as Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.”

He said viewers should remember the station streams its local newscasts to desktop and laptop computers, as well as to mobile devices.

For NFL fans, local DirecTV viewers will need to find alternatives if they want to watch Cleveland Browns games, as well as various college football matchups. The CBS affiliate airs the Browns games.

“I know that Raycom is working diligently to reach an agreement. We are hopeful that DirecTV will want to reach an agreement with Raycom,” Mr. Chirdon said in his written responses.

In a video posted on Friday, when it appeared an impasse was inevitable, Mr. Chirdon appealed to WTOL viewers with words similar to what executives of other Raycom stations were saying.

“First of all, I’d like to apologize to these [DirecTV] viewers for the inconvenience they may face of not being able to watch us. I’d also like to say thank you for your loyalty,” Mr. Chirdon says in the video, in which he encourages those affected to call DirecTV and express their concerns.

Paul McTear, Raycom Media president and chief executive officer, was quoted as saying in the corporation’s prepared statement that the situation “is frustrating for DirecTV customers who rely on Raycom stations for information and entertainment.”

“We share their frustration and are committed to doing everything we can to resolve this issue and have been for the last 12 weeks of discussion,” Mr. McTear’s statement said.

In its statement, DirecTV said Raycom Media “is denying DirecTV viewers access to WTOL unless they pay more than double just to receive the same CBS shows that remain available over the air for free.”

“We will always work to protect our customers and prevent them from enduring any unnecessary interruptions, no matter how brief,” DirecTV said in its statement. “We appreciate their patience because it will have a direct impact on their bill. CBS won’t have an SEC [Southeastern Conference] Game of the Week this week, and while the Browns and Bengals open their seasons Sunday, nobody needs to miss any NFL action, either.”

DirecTV said it is forbidden by law from picking up other nearby CBS affiliates.

“U.S. law prevents that in all but a few circumstances. But because so many station owners like Raycom continue to intentionally black out or antagonize the same public they’re specifically licensed to serve, Congress is already considering different ways to end these unnecessary blackouts once and for all,” DirecTV said. “As far as we’re concerned, it cannot happen soon enough.”

Raycom’s 53 stations are in 37 markets and 18 states, covering 13.1 percent of U.S. television housholds, the corporation said. It employs nearly 4,000 people in full and part-time positions, Raycom’s statement said.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.



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