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Published: Saturday, 12/31/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Deadline nears for U-verse to cut off CBS

WTOL would go dark for firm's subscribers

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

EDITOR'S NOTE: After this story was published, AT*T U-verse and WTOL-TV reached an agreement to extend retransmission rights through the end of February.

Subscribers to AT&T U-verse cable television could wake up Sunday morning to find they no longer have access to CBS and local programming on WTOL-TV, Channel 11.

AT&T and Raycom, WTOL's parent company, have been in negotiations for the retransmission rights to nearly 20 of Raycom's stations, including affiliates in Cleveland, Memphis, Louisville, and Charlotte.

If the parties cannot reach a deal by midnight, U-verse cannot rebroadcast the signals of the Raycom stations.

This would mean that U-verser subscribers could lose Sunday CBS programming including the Pittsburgh Steelers-Cleveland Browns game at 4:15 p.m.

WTOL is the CBS affiliate for northwest Ohio, but only U-verse subscribers would be affected.

Subscribers to Buckeye CableSystem and other cable and satellite providers or those who receive free, over-the-air programing via an antenna will continue to have access to WTOL and CBS programming.

"Negotiations are ongoing" between Raycom and AT&T, said Bob Chirdon, WTOL general manager.

"They've been in communication. Our headquarters, the people responsible at Raycom, and their headquarters, the people responsible at AT&T, they have been talking, yes," he said.

Mr. Chirdon said he thought it unlikely a deal could be completed in time to prevent the outage of CBS and WTOL programming.

Representatives of AT&T could not be reached for comment Friday.

In an on-air editorial Mr. Chirdon planned to run Friday and Saturday, he said, "WTOL has worked hard to reach a fair, market-based agreement to keep our station on AT&T U-verse.

"Unfortunately, AT&T U-verse has refused to reach a deal with us, and by law the deadline for reaching a deal is tonight at midnight.

"Unless AT&T U-verse changes course, thousands of households will lose WTOL, including the final week of the NFL season and the upcoming playoffs.

"WTOL is deeply disappointed and regrets the impact on our viewers.

"We hope they take action by sending AT&T U-verse a message that this is unacceptable -- and if that doesn't work they should vote with their feet by switching to DIRECTV, DISH Network, their local cable provider, or get our station free over-the-air."

WTOL has been running an on-air notice advising U-verse subscribers of the situation.

The station has been advising viewers to call AT&T at 800-288-2020.

Similar contract negotiations involving local affiliates and cable and satellite providers have gone to the wire before, most recently with WUPW-TV, Channel 36, and the DISH Network in March.

The DISHNetwork yanked the local Fox affiliate and its network programming off the air for a week until a deal was reached.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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