By Jim Williams
Special to S.F. Examiner
A battle between CBS and AT&T could mean no 49ers preseason telecasts or Raiders regular season games for those hundreds of thousands of DirecTV, AT&T Uverse and DirecTV Live streaming customers living in the Bay Area.
The fight has been going on for months and it came to a head on July 20 at 2 a.m. ET when CBS and Nexstar stations went dark on all of the AT&T distribution outlets.
Local CBS-owned stations KPIX TV 5 and KBCW, and Nexstar-owned KRON TV 4 are all gone from the AT&T platforms with the dispute likely to last a while. That means that 49ers preseason and Raiders regular-season game broadcasts are in jeopardy for some Bay Area TV fans.
It should be noted that the stations remain accessible via over-the air antenna, as well as through Comcast and other area cable systems and steaming services like Fubo TV, Hulu Live TV and Youtube TV. They offer local San Francisco stations including KPIX as part of their programming options. The blackout, however, does effect an estimated quarter of a million viewers in the Bay Area when you factor in AT&T Uverse cable in South San Francisco, DirecTV satellite services and the DirecTV Live streaming service.
What is the beef between AT&T and CBS all about? Simply put, money.
AT&T and CBS are at war over carriage fees: the price AT&T is willing to pay the network for the right to broadcast its channels on their cable, satellite and streaming services. According to multiple reports, CBS — the top-rated broadcast network — is looking to boost their per-subscriber payment from $2 per month to $3 per month, a non-starter for AT&T.
At the moment, both sides in the dispute are dug in.
While the two communication giants battle things out, Bay Area sports fans who subscribe to the AT&T-owned services are missing PGA golf and other summer offerings on CBS. U.S. Open tennis and, of course, the start of both the NFL and college football season are all drawing near.
In just two weeks, Aug. 10, the 49ers open the NFL preseason against the Dallas Cowboys. The dispute is highly unlikely to be resolved by that date.
The next preseason game — Aug. 19 against Denver — will air on ESPN. However, the final two preseason games — Aug. 24 against Kansas City and Aug. 29 against the Chargers — are supposed to air on KPIX. If history is any indication, fans subscribing to AT&T owned services won’t get to see it.
These squabbles over carriage payments more often than not are a measure of brinkmanship.
The key bargaining chip for CBS is their NFL broadcasts, and they used them back in 2013 to win a battle with Time Warner just in time for the opening weekend of the season. Back in 2009, Fox and Time Warner also had a last-minute deal brokered before the NFL season kicked off.
Times have changed, though, with the advent of streaming services and multiple-platform pay TV outlets. So, as strong a draw as the NFL is, that might not be enough to get CBS and AT&T to settle the deal before the first week of September rolls around.
Raiders fans that are subscribers to DirecTV or Uverse need to look at Sept. 15 — Oakland’s second game — that would be the first KPIX game they could miss.
So what can you do if you are part of the AT&T family in order to watch KPIX until this stalemate ends that won’t break the bank?
Buying an HDTV antenna is an inexpensive way to solve your problem, but buying a subscription to the CBS All Access streaming service will get you KPIX plus tons of other content for about $7 per month, with the first week free and the ability to cancel at any time.
As of press time, The Examiner had reached out to representatives of KPIX for comment both via phone and email without response.
Both CBS and AT&T did respond with statements via email, and they both seem to be talking past one another.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said on Wednesday that his company made a “reasonable and fair offer five days ago and it’s been crickets. We haven’t heard anything.”
A CBS corporate spokesperson said it’s “absolutely” ready and willing to negotiate with the carrier after its programming was blacked out on AT&T’s pay-tv services last week.
Stay tuned. Things are starting to get interesting.