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Local ABC channel blacks out for DirecTV customers during contract dispute

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Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 12:26 am

FAIRBANKS — With a few hours to kill on Sunday night, Dana Fowlkes settled in on his couch to watch the Oscars ceremony he’d recorded earlier that evening.

The Chena Hot Springs Road resident is still waiting to get his fix of Hollywood glitz. That’s because Fowlkes was greeted with a message from DirecTV explaining that the feed from Alaska’s ABC affiliate wasn’t available on the satellite system because a contract dispute.

For Fowlkes and many other Alaska viewers, it seemed like a curious time for the channel to go black.

“It’s probably one of the two biggest nights in TV watching,” he said. “The Super Bowl, and I’d think the Oscars would be right up there.”

The Oscar-night blackout highlighted a nasty dispute between DirecTV and Vision Alaska, the Anchorage-based parent company for ABC affiliates in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau. The ABC stations’ Facebook page was flooded with complaints about the ongoing squabble.

When contacted, both organizations directed the News-Miner to their respective statements about the ongoing disagreement.

In its statement, DirecTV skewered Vision Alaska, claiming it abruptly pulled its programming early Sunday morning while seeking an eight-fold increase in its deal with the satellite TV provider.

“Vision Alaska is playing a contemptible game of takeaway, mistreating some of our best customers, and their most loyal viewers, by letting them see their programs one day, only to snatch them away the next,” said DirecTV Chief Content Officer Dan York in a statement. “Their take down in the dead of night clearly shows they didn’t want to face their customers in the light of day with this pathetic stunt.”

York said regulators should step in to “stop broadcasters from their own self-destructive, anti-consumer behavior.”

It’s the second time the ABC channels have vanished, according to DirecTV. Their programming was previously pulled from the satellite system from Jan. 5-7.

In their statement, the ABC affiliates accused DirecTV of distributing false information while refusing to negotiate in good faith. The statement said broadcasters commonly have such disputes with DirecTV, which is “a very large company and used to having its way.”

Vision Alaska said it has successfully negotiated deals with many other providers, and that DirecTV has been a difficult partner.

“We do indeed pay a lot of money for our network programming rights and DirecTV has to pay us in return,” the ABC stations said in their statement. “We cannot and will not give something we pay for at a value less than what it is worth, and DirecTV is not going to tell us what they are going to pay and then walk away.”

Both statements included some hope for a quick resolution, without providing details about why one may be forthcoming. Meanwhile, each offered an old-school suggestion for anyone who lives within range of a broadcast signal — hook up some rabbit ears until the dispute is over.

“We do not feel we are punishing any of our viewers,” Vision Alaska stated. “You do have options other than DirecTV, which includes picking up our signal over the air for free.”

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMbusiness.

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