Two weeks after Miami’s WSVN-Fox 7 disappeared from TV screens for AT&T U-verse subscribers, the situation remains in a stalemate — and viewers are paying the price.
A dispute between Sunbeam Television Corp., WSVN’s corporate parent, and AT&T over a new contract for transmission fees led the Fox affiliate to abruptly yank its broadcast signal from U-verse on Jan. 16 — one day before the channel aired the NFL playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers. Many subscribers were forced to watch the game on Fox Deportes, in Spanish.
The channel remained dark on Jan. 24, when WSVN aired the NFC Championship Game between Carolina and the Arizona Cardinals, as well as the first episode of the much-anticipated revival of The X-Files.
Heading into the third weekend since the blackout, neither side reports any progress in the negotiation over the fee U-verse must pay for the right to carry WSVN’s signal.
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“We intend to get WSVN back into our Miami and Fort Lauderdale customers’ lineups and continue to share their frustration,” said AT&T spokeswoman Kelly Starling via e-mail. “The station’s owner Sunbeam Television is prohibiting WSVN’s signal from reaching our customers’ homes unless they receive a significant increase in their current fees that we believe is unreasonable just to let the same customers keep watching shows that remain available for free over the air on Channel 7 and often online at fox.com.
“We’ve asked Sunbeam Television several times to allow our customers to have WSVN while we try to finalize this behind-the-scenes business agreement, but they’ve refused time and again. We can have WSVN back into customers’ homes within moments of Sunbeam granting us permission. U-verse provides approximately 500 different local TV stations across the country, and we intend for WSVN to return soon. Until then, we will work with our customers individually to do our best to meet their expectations.”
WSVN general manager Christian Wayland said, “We are continuing to work to get a resolution. But we have nothing to report at this time.”
Caught in the middle are U-verse subscribers, many of whom also rely on AT&T for their Internet, Wi-Fi and telephone connections.
“I’m not a big WSVN watcher, but I was planning on watching the NFC Championship Game,” said Matthew Quintana, 38, of Davie. “When I switched on my TV, I got a blue screen and thought I hadn’t paid my bill. I wasn’t given any notice this was going to happen. That’s what makes me the most cranky. But it would be more trouble to switch all my U-verse services. As of right now, I’m probably going to wait it out and see how it plays out.”
Max Ramos-Paez, 24, of Kendall, puts the blame on the station.
“Why would U-verse not want to provide one of the big four to their subscribers?” he said. “It’s ridiculous. I’ve had issues with them before, when they have pre-empted programming airing nationally on Fox in favor of something else. Plus I’m still getting FX and Fox News and Fox Deportes. It makes me wonder if WSVN is overestimating its worth.”
Others fault U-verse. One subscriber in Kendall, who asked not to be identified, says she dialed the 800 number AT&T suggested viewers call and was eventually transferred to an overseas customer service representative who said there was nothing he could do and told her to “have a nice day,” then hung up.
Trent Duffy, a spokesman for the American Television Alliance, blames outdated laws and regulation for the uptick in blackouts resulting from broadcast fee disputes between cable providers and TV stations.
“It’s a problem that is getting out of hand,” he said. “The FCC is starting to look into it. Because the laws that govern much of this were written in 1992, they heavily favor the broadcasters. It’s just not NFL games that are used to bargain: It’s also the Oscars and some of the most popular programs on TV. Broadcasters use TV fans as hostages to get more money from the pay-TV providers and it’s the viewer who ends up being victimized.”
At least now that the playoffs are over, football won’t be part of the negotiations between WSVN and AT&T.
“Thankfully, the Super Bowl is going to be on CBS this year,” Ramos-Paez said. “If the Super Bowl was airing on Fox, I think this would have been resolved a long time ago, because they would have both suffered.”