DirecTV direct-to-home satellite TV customers in some of the largest markets in the country were faced with losing access to local CBS programming as a retransmission agreement stalemate between the service’s parent AT&T and the television network inched toward an 11 p.m. deadline tonight (Friday).

AT&T announced that it had offered CBS the highest rate it has ever proposed to a broadcast network group to keep the stations on its satellite service as well as on its DirecTV Now (live OTT service) and AT&T Uverse (telco TV services), but thus far CBS negotiators haven’t blinked.

The 19 markets facing service disruption include CBS-owned television stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, Tampa, Seattle, Detroit, Minneapolis, Miami, Denver, Sacramento, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. An additional five The CW affiliate stations are also affected. If the stations go dark tonight, as both CBS and DirecTV have warned satellite subscribers, it will mean DirecTV will have lost 162 total local TV stations from various networks and territories since May 31st.

Seventeen stations owned by a group of seven broadcasters around the country went dark on May 31, and through a battle with Nexstar another 120 stations that are affiliates of CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox in 97 markets were taken off the service on July 4th.

CBS has issued statements that it continues to bargain with AT&T in good faith, and doesn’t want to lose its DirecTV viewers but AT&T is offering “unfair terms.”

If DirecTV subscribers do lose their CBS channels or other stations, a few options remain for viewers to continue catching their favorite programs in a timely manner. First, subscribers can switch to another multi-channel pay-TV provider in their area, such as a cable or telco TV service.

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Second, they can drop DirecTV and subscribe to a live streaming OTT service still carrying local CBS stations in their area (not including DirecTV Now, of course). Best of all, viewers within range of an affected station’s broadcast tower can tune in the channel for free over the air by connecting an antenna to the tuner input on their television set. Just like grandpa used to do does.

AT&T has also suggested that some of its customers can look into using the Locast app, which offers over the air service in about seven of the 14 affected markets. Customers also can get a Local Channel Connector that will integrate local over-the-air broadcast station signals into the DirecTV program guide carried by the service’s more sophisticated Genie receivers.

Finally, if the antenna option isn’t going to work (and a lot of people live more than 70 miles from an available signal), CBS programs will be available to stream live and on demand via the CBS All Access over-the-top streaming app.

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Just keep in mind, this will require an additional subscription fee (various rates apply for ad-sponsored or ad-free viewing tiers), and some legacy smart TV platforms aren’t compatible with the CBS All Access app. That means you might have to purchase a media streaming dongle like a Roku, Fire TV or Apple TV streaming box.

In fact, DirecTV executives have issued statements that CBS management is trying to extract higher rates from DirecTV subscribers as it tries to push its own subscription streaming business model.

AT&T has said it has asked if it could sell the CBS All Access streaming service to its affected subsribers but CBS has refused.

Meanwhile, NFL football is right around the corner, and CBS carries the local and some of the national market AFC games every Sunday. DirecTV also happens to carry the NFL Sunday Ticket out-of-market game package, also available at a significant premium to subscribers. Interestingly, AT&T is also having negotiation issues with the NFL right now over a renewal of its exclusive rights to offer the Sunday Ticket package after 2021.

All in all, this is a getting to be a big hassle and added expense for a lot of innocent people caught in a battle between media titans. As the crescendo of frustration and outrage began years earlier by media industry deregulation builds, will the ultimate option have to come at the ballot box?

By Greg Tarr

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