The Tribune Company is furiously lobbying its news consumers to put pressure on DIRECTV. Millions of dollars are at stake, as you might expect.
Tribune readers got a wraparound flier on their Thursday paper. “Tell Direct TV to keep WGN 9 CW,” said the flap over the front page, just above local icons Paul Konerko (White Sox), Jonathan Toews (Blackhawks), and Tom Skilling (WGN weather guy).
Over on WGN9, viewers are being similarly exhorted to take action. A couple of times an hour, an animated ad starts with a blank screen and a warning for DIRECTV customers: “Unfortunately, this is what you could be watching this Sunday…”
WGN and other Tribune stations may not air on DIRECTV after March 31st, all right, though DIRECTV says, on its website, that Tribune’s forcing the issue:
“Tribune Broadcasting has informed DIRECTV that on March 31 they will disconnect their DIRECTV viewers. We anticipate that Tribune will honor its 165-year history of serving the public interest and allow the stations to remain on as we continue to negotiate.”
The issue— Tribune doesn’t get any “retransmission fee” from DIRECTV for carrying its programming. WGN thinks that’s unfair, and says “we remain far apart in our negotiations”. DIRECTV responds they “have always compensated Tribune fairly and have no problem continuing to do so”.
Both the Trib and Channel 9 have covered the dispute, in reasonably even-handed terms (though both Monday’s Trib article and the :30 blurb read on Friday’s 11AM news by anchor Steve Sanders quoted the Trib’s statement before relating DIRECTV’s rejoinder).
Tribune is throwing the weight of its hometown media conglomerate (though WGN radio seems free of direct appeals to DIRECTV outrage, from what I can tell) into ginning up outrage against DIRECTV.
If you call the toll-free line the Trib’s advocacy ads tout, a recorded voice delivers the misleading warning that “DIRECTV may drop WGN9” (rather than Tribune pulling its programming). You’re warned that you may soon miss your WGN favorites— America’s Next Top Model, Gossip, Cubs and Sox baseball.
The call advises you to hang on a moment, and you’ll be switched to a DIRECTV operator. It gives advice on ways to express your outrage at the impending cutoff of WGN programming, and gives the assurance “Direct TV values your business and your money. They will listen to you.”
Chicagoans sometimes get real benefit from the Tribune media octopus. Newspaper columnists and beat reporters add expertise to Channel 9’s coverage of complex issues. The newspaper and TV station often combine forces to do meaningful investigations (just yesterday, state lawmakers approved changes to state pension rules, aimed at preventing the kinds of abuses uncovered in one of those joint investigations).
But the one-sided debate being waged in Chicago demonstrates the downside of media concentration, a downside severe enough that FCC rules used to forbid many kinds of “cross-ownership” in media markets.
Expect this dispute to be resolved with little or no interruption of WGN transmission. That’s what usually happens in these cases, often because pressure builds in advance of a big TV event viewers worry about missing (the approach of the Super Bowl led to a settlement between DIRECTV and the Sunbeam TV chain). Maybe the approach of baseball season and hockey playoffs, aided by Tribune’s multi-platform scary ads, will help WGN’s case.