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Local DirecTV customers lose KOMU, affiliated programming due to contract dispute

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 | 9:03 p.m. CDT; updated 10:44 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 15, 2014

COLUMBIA — Local DirecTV subscribers who want to watch "The Voice" or "The Tonight Show" are out of luck.

KOMU/NBC and DirecTV were unable to come to a new agreement after their original agreement ended March 31, said Matt Garrett, KOMU directer of audience development.

The negotiations began six weeks ago, he said. The station then granted two extensions to DirecTV to keep the programming on the air after March 31, but those extensions ended Friday when a new agreement couldn't be reached.

Garrett said KOMU requested a few cents more per day because of the mounting fees the station must pay for its network and syndicated programming from NBC and The CW Television Network.

DirecTV spokesman Tom Tyrer said the station wanted customers to pay nearly five times what they had been paying before for the same programming. If the payment worked out to even just $0.10 a day, Tyrer said this sum of money would become a big number when every subscriber has to pay it.

"It's not that we don't know the market or the value of individual stations," he said. "We are more than willing to compensate KOMU fairly, but obligating our customers to pay five times the current price is not what we would consider reasonable."

DirecTV customer Mike Denzel said he appreciates that DirecTV is not giving in to the price increase.

"I've been with DirecTV for a while and it's just something you have to weather," he said.

Garrett also said DirecTV wanted the rights to digitally stream content, but KOMU does not have the ability to grant the rights to DirecTV to stream NBC and The CW programs. Garrett said the station may look into getting those rights in the future, but it does not have them now.

This is not the first conflict between DirecTV and local stations. In October, with the World Series approaching, DirecTV and News-Press & Gazette were unable to renew their contract, which led to a blackout of ABC 17/KMIZ, FOX 22/KQFX and MyZouTV, according to previous Missourian reporting.

The companies came to a temporary agreement so viewers could watch the World Series on FOX 22. They came to a long-term agreement later in October, according to previous Missourian reporting

DirecTV customer Kristen Smarr has experienced both of the recent outages since moving to Jefferson City six months ago. She said she is frustrated by the standoff.

“I pay for a service and I expect that service to be delivered," she said. "I don’t think it’s fair that when those services aren’t delivered, we aren’t compensated for anything. I shouldn't be punished while they negotiate a contract.”

Smarr said this situation has caused her to realize that she can live without DirecTV. Instead, she said she can use Hulu Plus, an Apple TV and the KOMU app to find the content she cares about during the outages. She will likely stop paying for DirecTV once her contract is up and save $75 a month, she said.

Besides the message that there would be channel outages, Smarr said she has not received any further information from DirecTV. She said it seems as if the customers are held hostage in this sort of situation — left without services but stuck in contracts. However, she said she does not hold KOMU responsible for the issues and will continue to use it as her news source.

Contrary to some beliefs, DirecTV is not blocking the station, Tyrer said, but KOMU pulled its programming from the satellite provider Friday and is choosing not to broadcast. By law, a local provider like DirecTV cannot remove a local broadcast station, like KOMU, from its lineup. This law, known as "must-carry" law, states that a cable provider can't deny a local broadcast station from its customers. If the station enacts the law and requires the cable provider to carry its programming, however, it must forfeit all compensation.

Blackouts likes these have been increasing in recent years, Tyrer said. More local broadcasters continue to shut down their signals and force customers to pay three, four or even five times as much to get them back. Over the past couple of years, there have been a record number of blackouts, he said.

"These blackouts have really gotten out of control," he said. "The FCC and Congress are now paying attention to this and there have been recent positive changes in the way these deals are negotiated."

Viewers affected by these blackouts can still access KOMU's free, over-the-air signal with a properly installed antenna, Garrett said. They can also find most NBC and The CW programming on the networks' websites, often with little to no delay, Tryer said.

Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.


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