Belo in Fee Dispute With DirecTV, Which is Warning Customers They Could Lose WFAA

Saw this heads-up for the first time last night. As it turns out, according to DirecTV's website, the satellite provider and Belo Corp. are engaged in a tussle over broadcast fees. Belo, which signed its agreement with the carrier in February 2001, says DirecTV isn't paying enough for the rights to broadcast its 16 local stations, among them WFAA-Channel 8, and is threatening to yank 'em when its contract expires November 1. Messages have been left for both parties, but I see the Idaho Stateman had a piece yesterday concerning this dispute, since Boise-based, Belo-owned KTVB is also on the potential chopping block.

What's the problem? Channel 7, owned by Belo Corp., says DirecTV underpays for the ability to offer customers KTVB's local programming and NBC shows.

"They pay channels with far fewer viewers more," KTVB President and General Manager Doug Armstrong told the Statesman.

Armstrong wouldn't say exactly how KTVB knows that, but said they "have a pretty good idea" what DirecTV pays around the country. He named ESPN, TBS, USA and Fox News as higher-paid channels.

"Traditionally, DirecTV has undervalued broadcasters, particularly KTVB," he said.

Tough talk aside, these kind of tussles are usually resolved well before the midnight hour. Just last fall, Belo was threatening to walk away from Time Warner and Dish Network, but they arrived at separate arrangements well before the go-dark deadline. Says DirecTV's message, "We value the Belo stations and are negotiating diligently to reach an equitable agreement with them."

Update at 2:50 p.m.: DirecTV just sent a statement concerning its stand-off with Belo Corp. It reads, in full:
Belo has decided to notify its viewers of our discussions, which is something they did during similar talks with Time Warner Cable and DISH Network last year. None of those customers ever lost access to Belo stations and we expect the same positive result here. Their TV commercials are nothing more than a routine approach to try and gain leverage in negotiations. DirecTV customers should ignore Belo's scare tactics and enjoy their DirecTV service as they always have.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky