AT&T seeks Super Bowl deal with Cox Media Group as KIEM, KVIQ dispute persists

February 05, 2021

As Super Bowl Sunday draws near, AT&T is aiming to strike a deal with Cox Media Group to bring back Eureka’s KVIQ-CBS for the big game.

On Friday, AT&T offered to pay CMG and its owner Apollo Global Management an undisclosed amount to restore KVIQ-CBS to AT&T/DIRECTV’s channel lineup following an ongoing dispute that took KIVQ-CBS and KIEM-NBC off the air on Feb. 2.

It remains unclear if CMG and Apollo will accept the deal, but AT&T spokesperson Dale Ingram told the Times-Standard on Friday AT&T will “work right up through Sunday’s kickoff and beyond,” adding “the station should never have come down in the first place, but by law, we cannot control that.”

“We want to get the Cox stations back into their local lineups, but Cox and Apollo alone have exclusive control over which homes are allowed to receive them. However, while we continue to negotiate with Cox to bring the local stations back to our customers, we wanted to request that they provide the Super Bowl to local fans while we continue to work with them,” Ingram said.

After repeated attempts to contact CMG for comment, CMG told the Times-Standard on Friday afternoon, “We have no further comment at this time.”

AT&T criticized CMG for depriving its consumers of access to local programming during the negotiation process.

“AT&T believes stations like KVIQ-CBS should remain available while a new multi-year renewal is negotiated rather than inconvenience Eureka viewers and KVIQ sponsors,” according to a Feb. 5 statement from AT&T. “Last year, Cox pulled signals from DISH Network homes only hours before the AFC and NFC Championship games, costing NFL fans nearly the entire 2020 regular season.”

The proposed deal does not include KIEM-NBC, which was also taken off the air amid the corporate dispute.

AT&T Chief Executive Officer Jeff McElfresh sent a letter to CMG Executive Chairman Steve J. Pruett on Friday afternoon demanding that “CMG immediately return its local stations to our customers.”

One week ago, CMG settled a nearly identical dispute with Altice/Suddenlink that had dragged on for nearly three weeks. CMG and Altice/Suddenlink did not disclose the terms of their deal but confirmed the two corporations had reached “a new multi-year retransmission consent deal for ongoing carriage of CMG stations” on Suddenlink channel lineups.

“This is the same issue that we just had with the cable system playing out on a different platform. In this case, the platform is DIRECTV satellite service,” Sean McLaughlin said, local media advocate and executive director for Access Humboldt. “Suddenlink is bad, AT&T is bad and CMG is the only reasonable player on the landscape?”

On Thursday, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) sent a letter to CMG calling for restored access to both KIEM-NBC and KVIQ-CBS.

“My constituents are tired of these finger-pointing exercises where big media conglomerates blame each other while consumers get screwed by blackouts,” Huffman said in the statement. “I’m sure there’s some blame to go around, but CMG is the common denominator in the two recent blackouts. At a minimum, that suggests they’re not working proactively to protect consumers. At worst, it suggests they’re using consumers as hostages by letting blackouts happen to maximize their negotiating leverage. Either way, it’s unacceptable.”

In the letter, Huffman cites Section 325(b)(3)(C) of the Communications Act of 1934 which requires broadcasters as well as cable and satellite operators to negotiate retransmission in “good faith” should stations “opt-out of must carry status.”

“Allowing consumers to experience blackouts to enhance your negotiating leverage is not ‘good faith,’ ” Huffman wrote. “This is the second time in just over a month that this has happened, affecting 25,869 of my constituents that rely on channels KIEM-NBC and KVIQ-CBS. As we continue to battle COVID-19, small businesses struggle to stay afloat, and we face a tense moment of democratic uncertainty, these kinds of local news sources are an indispensable resource in Eureka and across the country.”

Huffman confirmed plans to reintroduce the Local and Independent Television Protection Act, a bill designed to address media consolidation by getting rid of the UHF discount.

“The UHF discount is an antiquated FCC loophole reinstated by the Trump administration that facilitates mergers by allowing media companies to ‘discount’ UHF stations (channels 14-83) when calculating whether they’re subject to the national TV ownership cap,” according to Huffman. “The cap states that no single company is allowed to own broadcast stations that reach more than 39% percent of television-viewing households in the country.”

Huffman said the bill will include a specific provision for continued access to local channels should two parties fail to negotiate. “The cable or satellite provider would be required to continue retransmitting local broadcast stations for a set period of time while the parties resolve their differences,” he said.

It remains to be seen when CMG and AT&T will come to an agreement or if CMG will accept AT&T’s offer to restore KVIQ-CBS for Super Bowl Sunday. Should CMG refuse, the game will be available at and through the CBS Sports mobile app. AT&T/DIRECTV customers can view both KIEM-NBC and KVIQ-CBS online, on streaming devices such as Roku or AppleTV or use an over-the-air antenna.

By:  Isabella Vanderheiden
Source: Eureka Times Standard