Charter Subscribers Could Lose Tribune Stations as Contract Ends

(Bloomberg) -- Charter Communications Inc., the third largest-U.S. pay-TV provider, faces a midnight deadline to renew a programming agreement with Tribune Media Co. or potentially lose local stations in 24 markets, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The current accord providing Charter customers with 33 Tribune stations ends at midnight New York time. Expiration could affect their ability to watch Fox and CBS network affiliates in markets like Cleveland, St. Louis and Indianapolis, as well as the superstation WGN. As of midday Monday the two sides were still in discussions.

If a blackout occurs, it could disrupt coverage of NCAA basketball games and NFL playoffs this weekend, starting with the Seattle Seahawks versus Dallas Cowboys Saturday in a game to be carried on Fox. The Los Angeles Chargers play the Baltimore Ravens the next day on CBS.

“We continue to negotiate with Tribune and hope to reach a fair agreement,” Stamford, Connecticut-based Charter said in a statement.

“Spectrum has so far failed to negotiate in a meaningful fashion,” said Tribune Media spokesman Gary Weitman.

Record subscriber losses for the pay-TV industry in the third quarter add to the pressure on media companies and cable and satellite operators during the current round of renewal talks. The pay-TV industry continues to be squeezed by online video services like Netflix Inc. and other cheaper alternatives.

Earlier this month, Nexstar Media Group Inc. agreed to buy Tribune Media for $4.1 billion, potentially surpassing Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. and forming the largest local-TV broadcaster in the U.S. Tribune’s total of 42 stations include Fox, CBS, NBC and ABC affiliates, as well as CW and MyNetworkTV. Charter has a big presence in Los Angeles, where Chicago-based Tribune’s KTLA is scheduled to broadcast the Tournament of Roses Parade New Year’s Day.

On Sunday, Verizon Communications Inc. reached a new pact with Walt Disney Co. covering programming from Disney’s ABC, ESPN and other channels.

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