A sizable portion of Minnesota's TV viewing audience is being left unable to watch NBC programming - including tonight's big Sunday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, with many fans excited to see if the cameras show Taylor Swift in attendance.
What's causing this issue?
The owner of Twin Cities NBC affiliate KARE 11, which is a company called Tegna, is currently in a contract dispute with pay TV services like DirecTV. Every few years, pay TV services have to negotiate new contracts with each local channel they carry.
While this doesn't currently impact Duluth, Rochester, and Fargo markets (all under other ownership groups with separate deals with DirecTV), the Twin Cities market also covers a lot of Central Minnesota, not only impacting the state's largest population center, but also a sizable geographic portion of the state.
The current contract between Tegna and DirecTV ended on Thursday (November 30) without a new agreement, leaving viewers of TEGNA's stations - which includes KARE 11 in Minnesota - without access via their service
DirecTV contends Tegna wants an unfair increase in fees DirecTV would owe, leading to the "temporary glitch" in making programming available to customers. In a statement provided by DirecTV, the company calls the ever-increasing fees being asked by terrestrial broadcasters "unsustainable".
In the statement, the company's chief content officer said "We just can’t do this anymore–these price increases are unsustainable for the average consumer. It’s a badly broken model that erodes trust, eliminates choice, and keeps delving deeper into the wallets of our already overtaxed customers.”
While Tegna and DirecTV (and DirecTV Stream) work their way through the new contract process, viewers of KARE 11 in the Twin Cities and TEGNA's other channels across the country are left with screens like this.
The visual above is part of a video being played in a loop on KARE 11's channel on DirecTV. In this video, they say their customers are not the only ones being impacted.
DirecTV's message says that other services like Fubo, Dish Network, Mediacom, Charter Spectrum, and others are also blacked out or have been threatened to be blacked out due to similar contract disputes.
It is worth noting that these blackouts are not all going on at the same time as this battle between DirecTV and Tegna. DirecTV appears to be using this verbiage in their case against Tegna as just another example of Tegna being difficult with pay TV companies by pointing out other examples of blackouts from recent years.
Some of those blackouts have been pretty lengthy before eventually being resolved. The last dispute between DirecTV and Tegna lasted about 3 weeks, but disputes with other providers have lasted months in some cases in the past.
What is Tegna saying about the dispute?
In a statement provided to Deadline, Tegna said the following:
“Despite months of effort, DirecTV has refused to reach a fair, market-based agreement with Tegna. As a result, DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse customers will lose access to NFL and college football conference championship games, as well as some of the most popular national network programming and top-rated local news. We urge DirecTV to continue to negotiate with us until a deal is reached that restores our stations to their customers.”
In a message on the KARE 11 website, there is a link to a Tegna-owned website that points at DirecTV as the culprit for the blackout, saying DirecTV has "taken away your local station access". They go on to suggest viewers call DirecTV to share their frustrations. They also offer information about other pay TV providers that do carry Tegna stations.
Besides KARE 11 in Minnesota, Tegna owns almost 70 TV stations in over 50 markets across the country, including NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, and CW affiliates.
Outrage online over the dispute
A lot of TV viewers have been upset, sharing their frustrations on social media not only about Sunday Night Football on NBC being blacked out, but other programming across Tegna-owned stations across the country.
What can I do if I have DirecTV and want to watch KARE 11 or NBC programming?
If you live in a part of Minnesota where KARE 11 is your NBC affiliate and you get your TV via DirecTV or DirecTV Stream, there are certainly a lot of options in this era of online TV availability.
DirecTV is offering suggestions like Peacock, other streaming services that carry local channels, or simply getting an antenna, which avoids any sort of blackouts because it cuts a pay TV provider out of the entire scenario.
If you are a subscriber to DirecTV, they say they are willing to help customers with buying a "small digital TV antenna" or are offering blackout credits. You can see if you are eligible and learn more about these options on their website.
Minnesota Counties Bigger Than Entire States In The US
Gallery Credit: Nick Cooper - TSM Duluth