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Channel 8 back on the air with Spectrum-Tribune settlement

January 11, 2019

Channel 8 back on the air with Spectrum-Tribune settlement

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Facing the loss of two NFL playoff games this weekend to Spectrum subscribers, cable provider Charter Spectrum and station group Tribune Media called an end to their increasingly bitter blame battle and, early Friday morning, reached a settlement. The dispute between the two companies saw Cleveland Fox affiliate WJW Channel 8 and 32 other stations owned by Tribune stations pulled from Spectrum lineups around the country for nine days.

Channel 8 and the other affected stations were notified of the agreement at 4:30 a.m. Northeast Ohio Spectrum subscribers could again see the Cleveland station around 7:15 a.m.

After more than a week of angry war talk, the two companies issued the typically terse kind of joint statement you get with such resolved carriage battles: “We are pleased to have reached this agreement that will return Tribune Broadcasting’s local television stations and WGN America to Spectrum customers and Tribune’s viewers.”

Channel 8, along with WGN America, also owned by Tribune, got yanked form Northeast Ohio Spectrum lineups on Jan. 2, the day the two company’s agreement expired. Spectrum subscribers looking for Channel 8 that day found a non-stop rotation of anti-Tribune messages.

“This is how Tribune Broadcasting operates,” one of the Spectrum blasts at Tribune read. “Driven by greed, they’ve pulled their channels from other distributors over the recent years as a negotiating tactic.”

Tribune executives countered that Spectrum, the nation’s second-largest cable company with more than 16 million subscribers, was giving a false picture of the situation.

“We’re not asking for anything more than what other providers pay us on a comparable basis,” Gary Weitman, Tribune’s senior vice president for corporate relations, told The Plain Dealer as the dispute was entering its second week. “We’ve really tried to negotiate a fair deal, but it’s hard to get them even to engage on a meaningful level.”

Both companies have said they’re not disclosing or discussing the terms of the agreement, but an resolution in the wee hours of the morning before a football weekend suggests that the agreed on figure undoubtedly was more than Spectrum wanted to pay and less than Tribune was asking.

With many Spectrum subscribers in various major television markets denied coverage of an NFL wild card game this past weekend, the pressure was growing on both sides for a settlement.

Local stations like Channel 8 were hearing from viewers and advertisers. And, if the war dragged on much longer, Spectrum was facing a jump in subscriber defection at time when the entire cable industry is coping with a “cut the chord” movement to other providers, from dishes and antennas to streaming services.

Northeast Ohio businesses that sell and install antennas capable of receiving local stations reported an increase in sales after Saturday’s wild card game between the Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks was unavailable to area Spectrum subscribers.

Channel 8 is carrying the two playoff games covered by Fox this weekend: the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Los Rams on Saturday and the Philadelphia Eagles vs. the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. In other markets, Tribune has CBS affiliates, and that network also has two playoff games this weekend.

“We’re just incredibly pleased this worked out to get stations like WJW back on the air, especially with playoff games this weekend,” Weitman said Friday.

Blackouts caused by these kinds of disputes are typical near the end or beginning of each year, when contracts usually expires. Disney and Verizon FiOS a clash with a last-second deal in late December, but, last January, a blackout battle Starz and Altice’s cable systems, Optimum and Suddenlink, lasted about six weeks.

The fight between Tribune and Spectrum erupted at a time when the Nexstar Media Group is attempting to acquire 42 Tribune Media in a deal valued at $6.4 billion. If approved by government regulatory agencies, the acquisition announced in early December would make the Texas-based Nexstar the country’s largest owner of TV stations.

Industry analysts, however, are fully expecting Fox Television to pressure Nexstar to sell seven of those stations, including Channel 8.

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