A dispute between the nation’s largest satellite television provider and second largest owner of TV stations is affecting viewers in the Wabash Valley.

Terre Haute’s WTWO-TV 2 is among 120 Nexstar Media Group stations in 97 markets that have been missing from the Direct TV and AT&T U-verse line-up since July 3. Stations in Indianapolis, Evansville and Champaign, Illinois, are also affected.

A weekend meeting apparently failed to resolve the dispute. WTWO General Manager Tim Sturgess referred questions to a Nexstar news release dated July 11, two days prior to the scheduled meeting.

The companies have different versions of what’s at issue in the dispute — and even how Nexstar stations “went dark” on Direct TV and U-verse.

AT&T acquired Time Warner last year for $85 billion and Nexstar said in its news release that AT&T “appears intent on using its new market power to prioritize at the expense of consumers, and insisting on unreasonable terms that are inconsistent with the market.”

AT&T spokesman Phil Hayes said in a July 12 email that Nexstar “is demanding to roughly double its fees” by seeking the largest increase his company “has ever been presented in negotiations like these.”

Nexstar said it offered AT&T and Direct TV the same rates it offered to “other large distribution partners” in successful negotiations with those companies this year. Nexstar insists it “did not pull its stations or ask for their removal” and has repeatedly offered a 30-day extension while negotiations continued.

 AT&T said via Hayes the offer was “specifically conditioned on its rates being retroactively applied.”

The WTWO owner said it “has never, in its 23-year history, had a service interruption related to distribution agreements of the magnitude of the AT&T/Direct TV interruption.”

Blackouts have become “an increasingly urgent public problem” and consumers deserve greater accountability, said AT&T’s Hayes.

Fees broadcasters charge distributors to re-transmit their free over-the-air signals have roughly doubled in the last five years and increased by 2,000 percent between 2000 and 2008, he said. The 200 blackouts so far this year represents a 20 percent increase over all of 2018, he added.

Neither Hayes of AT&T nor Elizabeth Ryder, vice president and general counsel with Nexstar, responded to messages Tuesday seeking further comment. 

Amid changing viewer habits and alternative video technology, growing numbers of viewers are shunning pay services altogether.

The number of U.S. households switching to antennas to receive over the air signals increased by about 37 percent between 2014 and 2018, from 12 million to 16.4 million, according to collaborative research by Nielson and GfK.

Dave Taylor can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dave.taylor@tribstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarDave.

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