NFC title game at risk in DirecTV-Sunbeam retrans spat

Michelle Clancy ©RapidTVNews | 19-01-2012

After five days of programming blackouts in Miami and Boston, the retransmission fee dispute between satellite broadcaster DirecTV and Sunbeam shows no sign of resolution.
If the situation is not rectified soon, Miami football fans will be shut out of Sunday's highly anticipated NFC title game Sunday between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants which is expected to draw huge audiences.
In an act of what DirecTV characterises as "extortion," Boston's NBC and CW affiliates and Miami's FOX affiliate have been pulled by Sunbeam, their owner, leaving the operator without key national programming like NFL playoff games, the Golden Globes and top-rated primetime shows in those markets. The affected subscribers total 270,000 people in the Miami area and more than 200,000 in Boston.
The story is a familiar one: under "must-carry" rules, pay-TV operators are obligated to offer subscribers programming from national broadcasters like NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS and FOX as part of their basic tier. However, they also must pay a retransmission fee to the local affiliates whose channels the operator is required to show, to help pay for programming costs and the like. That leaves the local affiliates and their media conglomerate owners in the catbird seat when it comes to negotiating a fair rate.
DirecTV says it will not bow to the leverage, even so. "We are standing firm on behalf of our customers against Sunbeam and WHDH LLC attempts to extort a more than 300% fee increase to carry WSVN in Miami, and WHDH and WLVI in Boston," it says on its Web site.
In an attempt to turn public opinion against the affiliates, it also warned that should Sunbeam not back down, the costs will be passed along to the consumer. "Paying such outrageous fees will only cause your DirecTV bill to go even higher, and we are doing everything we can to prevent that," the message concludes.
The affiliates of course beg to differ, saying the increases are minimal at worst.
DirecTV plans to bring the matter up to the FCC, which has been asked repeatedly to reconsider the must-carry rules in the name of consumer interest in avoiding blackout situations