DirecTV subscribers could lose Tribune programming

Tribune television stations in 16 markets across the country, including WGN in Chicago, are threatening to cut off programming to millions of DirecTV subscribers after negotiations over retransmission fees broke down Monday.

The contract is set to expire March 31 and Tribune Co. is seeking compensation from the satellite TV provider to carry its programming, something it does not receive. Without resolution, the plug will be pulled Saturday at midnight.  

At stake is everything from Chicago Cubs and White Sox baseball on WGN America to "The Vampire Diaries" on local CW Network affiliates. Millions of DirecTV subscribers would no longer receive 23 local Tribune stations and WGN America, Tribune’s national cable network.

"Despite our best efforts, DirecTV is refusing to offer a fair deal and we remain far apart in negotiations,” said Nils Larsen, Tribune Broadcasting president, said in a release. "As a result of DirecTV’s inflexibility, there’s a strong likelihood that service interruptions will occur. We feel we have an obligation to make sure DirecTV subscribers are aware that they will lose the programming provided both by our local stations and WGN America after Saturday."

Tribune Co., which owns numerous broadcasting and newspaper properties, including the Chicago Tribune, is seeking compensation for each satellite subscriber, which would be comparable to arrangements DirecTV has in place with "hundreds" of other broadcast providers, according to the company.

Stations affected include local CW and Fox affiliates, potentially cutting off shows such as "American Idol," "Glee," "New Girl" and "Gossip Girl." Baseball fans would also take their lumps, losing access to the Mets via WPIX-TV in New York, and the Phillies on WPHL-TV in Philadelphia.

This is not the first time a battle over retransmission fees has played out in public.  Last October, Fox Networks came within hours of cutting off programming to DirecTV subscribers before a resolution was reached. Last month, MSG Networks and Time Warner Cable reached an agreement after a 48-day blackout that kept the NBA’s New York Knicks off the air during their remarkable resurgence under point guard Jeremy Lin. New York  Gov.Andrew M. Cuomo eventually intervened, helping bring the two sides together after an impasse.  

rchannick@tribune.com | Twitter @RobertChannick