DirecTV subscribers lose Tribune programming

April 1, 2012 10:48:06 AM PDT
If you have DirecTV, you have fewer channels to choose from Sunday.

WGN Channel 9 is among the signals severed due to a dispute between the Tribune Broadcasting company, which owns WGN, and DirecTV.

Tribune Broadcasting said late Saturday in a statement that without a deal in place, DirecTV was barred by federal law from carrying the signal of Tribune's local television stations after midnight, when their agreement expired.

The move affects millions of DirecTV subscribers in Chicago, New York, New Orleans, and Philadelphia where Tribune owns television stations.

Negotiations over how much to charge for Tribune programs have been ongoing for months. Until the two sides reach a deal, Chicago DirecTV users may not be able to watch some Chicago Bulls, Cubs and White Sox games broadcast on Channel 9.

DirecTV subscribers in the markets where Tribune owns the local Fox affiliate lost access to programs such as "American Idol." Where Tribune owns the local affiliate of The CW Network, DirecTV subscribers are unable to see shows such as "Gossip Girl" and "Vampire Diaries."

Tribune president Nils Larsen called the situation "extremely unfortunate."

In its own statement, DirecTV said it had hoped Tribune would allow its programming to remain up while negotiations continue. But as it struck midnight in each time U.S. time zone, Tribune channels carried by DirecTV went blank.

Earlier, DirecTV said that it had accepted the financial terms that Tribune's management offered it by telephone two days ago. But Tribune came out with its own statement shortly after, saying it had not reached a deal or come to terms with DirecTV on any aspect of the contract.

DirecTV fired back, saying in another statement that it had a handshake deal with Tribune on Thursday with an agreed upon rate for their channels.

"Their actions are the true definition of `bad faith' in every sense of the term," DirecTV said.

The satellite TV provider also wondered whether Tribune was having difficulty negotiating because of its bankruptcy process.

"Threatening station blackouts to extract an exorbitant fee for all of Tribune's content may provide an improved return for certain banks and hedge funds, but is not in the interest of its viewers and is not a cure for bankruptcy," DirectTV said.

Larsen said in a statement Thursday that if an agreement was not reached, DirecTV subscribers would still be able to watch programs on broadcast stations for free in high definition with a TV antenna or by signing up with an alternative pay-TV provider.

In all, Tribune's broadcasting group owns or runs 23 television stations, WGN America on national cable and Chicago radio station WGN-AM. Its publishing arm includes daily newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun.

DirecTV serves 32 million people in the U.S. and Latin America.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)