Broadcast channels in major markets suddenly went dark for Spectrum TV customers on Wednesday as Charter Communications — the nation’s second-largest cable company with over 16 million TV subscribers — failed to sign a new programming contract with Tribune Media.
As many as 24 markets are affected by the TV blackout, including Denver, Houston, New York, Los Angeles and St. Louis. Tribune pulled its signal at 5 p.m. Eastern time after negotiations stalled.
The programming outage comes days before sports fans are expected to switch on their cable TV to watch highly anticipated postseason college and professional football games.
Although Charter subscribers can still catch the playoffs through other means, such as by streaming games on Yahoo Sports or the National Football League app, the contract dispute threatens to disrupt a key television weekend.
Tribune, which controls 33 broadcast stations across the affected markets, had asked Charter to pay more than twice what it currently does for the same content going forward, said Charter spokeswoman Nathalie Burgos.
“That is more than we pay any other broadcaster. They’re not being reasonable,” Charter said in a statement.
Providers such as Charter must pay significant sums to programming companies for the right to distribute their shows and channels. But as more Americans have canceled their cable subscriptions in recent years, financial pressure has risen for both sides as each seeks to adapt to shifting consumer tastes.
Tribune said as many as 6 million Charter subscribers have lost access to news, weather and traffic from their local broadcast stations as a result of the breakdown. As many as 14 million have lost access to WGN America, Tribune’s basic cable channel, across Charter’s entire network, it said.
“We’re extremely disappointed we do not have an agreement on the renewal of our contract with Spectrum,” said Gary Weitman, Tribune’s senior vice president for corporate relations. “We’ve offered Spectrum fair market rates … Spectrum has refused our offer and failed to negotiate in a meaningful fashion.”
Spectrum is a brand under which Charter markets its services.
The Charter-Tribune dispute is the latest in a series of business disputes hindering consumers' access to programming. Earlier this week, Verizon Fios subscribers in the nation’s capital as well as parts of Virginia and New York state lost access to their local broadcast stations in a protracted negotiating battle with the media company Tegna. And HBO’s programming dispute with Dish Network remains unresolved.
A slew of other TV blackouts, both threatened and resolved, have swept the country in recent weeks as many content companies' contracts with TV providers came up for renewal at the end of 2018. Blackouts hit TV viewers as many as 140 times last year, according to the American Television Alliance, a trade association representing distributors and independent programmers.