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CBS stations blacked out for DirecTV customers after deal with AT&T fails

Meg James, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Millions of DirecTV subscribers lost access to CBS programming late Friday after talks over a new distribution deal collapsed.

CBS Corp. and AT&T Inc., which owns DirecTV, failed to reach an agreement by an 11 p.m. Pacific deadline. Without a contract in place, AT&T no longer had authorization to include CBS station signals in its television packages in more than a dozen cities, including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Sacramento.

The station signals were pulled at about 2:15 a.m. Eastern.

The outage extends to CBS' Smithsonian Channel, CBS Sports and four television stations owned by CBS that carry CW programming.

It was not immediately clear how long the standoff would last.

"After months of negotiations, CBS is simply looking to receive fair value for its popular programming," CBS said in a statement shortly after its programming was removed from AT&T's television services. "The DirecTV deal expiring tonight was signed in 2012 and is nowhere close to today's fair market terms for CBS content."

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CBS has been demanding higher retransmission fees from pay-TV distributors. The move comes as AT&T and other cable and satellite TV companies struggle to hold the line on programming costs because they fear losing even more subscribers to lower- cost streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix.

"The problem is that broadcasters, like CBS, demand more money for shows that their viewers -- our subscribers -- are watching less," AT&T said Friday in a letter sent to members of Congress, warning of a possible blackout. "Our customers are fed up with these tactics. They are tired of the endless cycle of price increases and blackouts."

AT&T is the nation's largest pay-TV distributor with nearly 24 million customer homes.

But the Dallas-based telecommunications giant has been under increasing pressure to control costs as it grapples with subscriber defections. AT&T has lost about 1 million DirecTV subscribers in the last year, and so the company has been balking at CBS' demands.

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