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Charter and Tribune Are Beefing Over TV Channels Viewers Can Get For Free Over the Air

The cable company and Tribune Broadcasting are at a stalemate over their new contract, leading Tribune to black out channels for Charter subscribers.
A woman watching TV
Image: Pixabay

Charter-owned cable service Spectrum is in a spat with a national broadcaster over a suite of channels that viewers can all access for free over the air.

After not being able to reach a new deal by the December 31 deadline to continue airing the channels, Tribune Broadcasting has blacked out all of its channels for Spectrum subscribers, and both sides have started publishing attacks on each other over the 42 affected affiliate channels, which include local Fox, CW, and CBS channels around the country.

Tribune Broadcasting's market map

Image: Tribune Broadcasting

On Spectrum’s site, subscribers are directed to a website about the negotiations that claims Tribune has blocked the channels “to create hardship for our customers, while we are negotiating in good faith to reach a fair agreement.” The cable provider says Tribune is “driven by greed” and demanding “ridiculous” prices, an ironic argument from a company that dramatically increased its customer fees just a few months ago.

“They want us to pay more than double our current rate to carry the same programming!” Charter’s informational site states. “Why is Tribune acting this way? Perhaps it’s because they entered into an agreement to be purchased and are trying to make lucrative packages for their executives after the transaction.”

Tribune, meanwhile, counters that Charter is the unreasonable party.

“We’ve offered Spectrum fair market rates for our top-rated local news, live sports, and high-quality entertainment programming, and similarly fair rates for our cable network, WGN America,” Gary Weitman, Tribune Media’s senior vice president for corporate relations, said in a press release. “Spectrum has refused our offer and failed to negotiate in a meaningful fashion.”

Tribune goes even further on individual information sites directed at affected viewers, such as this one for Milwaukee Fox affiliate WITI. The blackout means that many Spectrum subscribers are not able to watch the NFL playoffs. In Indianapolis for example, where the Colts are heading into a divisional round game, the local CBS affiliate that airs the games has been blocked in the dispute. So for each channel’s site, Tribune has a customized, real time ticker that lets viewers know how long—in days, hours, minutes, and seconds—it has been “since Spectrum denied you the NFL Playoffs.”

Screengrab of NFL playoffs counter

In a frequently asked questions section, Tribune tells viewers that Spectrum’s claim about ridiculous fees is “simply untrue, and you shouldn’t buy it.”

“Charter, the owner of Spectrum, is worth about $140 billion, more than 20 times the value of Tribune Media,” the page continues. “Part of that value came from acquiring Time Warner Cable only two years ago, for $55 billion. They are paying a lot of debt service to afford that deal. So who’s the greedy party here? Logic points to Charter-Spectrum.”

The most ridiculous fact about the whole dispute is that almost all of the channels that Tribune provides are available for free over the airwaves. All a viewer needs is an antenna, and they can get all of their local channels for free, including the now-blocked Tribune affiliates. While Spectrum points to this fact as a reason why it doesn’t want to pay too much to carry the channels, it also serves as a pretty solid argument for viewers to cut their cable cord entirely.