DirecTV customers to see Super Bowl

By Kathy Korengel, Herald staff writerFebruary 2, 2011 

KENNEWICK -- DirecTV viewers who still are hoping to see the Super Bowl on Sunday might have their wishes come true.

The Spokane-based company that owns the local Fox affiliate, KFFX 11, asked DirecTV on Tuesday to start airing local Fox programming again for four weeks as the two sides try to work out a new agreement.

Fox is airing the Super Bowl this year, and the blackout of Fox would have left Tri-City DirecTV viewers out in the cold.

DirecTV officials said they have accepted the olive branch. They also noted that they have been asking Spokane-based Northwest Broadcasting to return the local Fox affiliate to the air.

"We're happy that Northwest granted our request to put the channels back on while we negotiate a deal," Dan Hartman, senior vice president of programming for DirecTV, wrote in an e-mail.

"We are making arrangements to restore the channels as soon as possible and look forward to getting a deal done as quickly as we can," he added.

The channel should be back up by as early as today, Hartman said.

The agreement to return Fox programs to local DirecTV viewers is the latest twist in a dispute that resulted in the local Fox channel going dark for DirecTV viewers Dec. 31.

On that date, an agreement that set out what DirecTV pays Northwest Broadcasting to air the local Fox shows expired.

Northwest Broadcasting asked for a rate increase that its officials said was comparable to what DirecTV pays cable channels such as Discovery and MTV, as well as to other Fox affiliates.

DirecTV officials said they offered a rate that was well above market rate and asked Northwest Broadcasting to agree to arbitration.

Jon Rand, vice president and chief operating officer of Northwest Broadcasting, said Tuesday his company decided to restore the local Fox channel because company officials believed DirecTV officials were going to "come to the big table and deal with us fairly."

More recently, Rand said, "It became clear to us they had no intention of doing that."

But as the Super Bowl, one of the most well-watched television programs, approached, "we couldn't imagine having our viewers not be able to see it," he said.

Northwest Broadcasting officials said they hope the gesture will prompt DirecTV officials to reach agreement on a new rate agreement with Northwest Broadcasting to air the Fox programming.

In an e-mail Tuesday, Hartman said DirecTV's offer to take the matter to an arbitrator still is on the table.

Brian Brady, president and chief operating officer of Northwest Broadcasting, also asked for other concessions, according to a copy of a letter he faxed to DirecTV CEO Michael White.

Brady also asked that DirecTV refund any early termination fees it charged DirecTV viewers who switched TV providers because they couldn't get the local Fox station.

Hartman replied, "as far as termination fees, that's a matter between us and our customers and is not part of the negotiation."

Brady also noted that DirecTV agreed in December to a $1 million settlement with the Washington State Attorney General's Office.

The office filed suit against California-based DirecTV in December 2009, alleging unfair business practices.

As part of the settlement, DirecTV agreed to resolve customer complaints and to disclose new information in its ads and when customers sign up for service.

The state said DirecTV had "generated more complaints to the Washington Attorney General's Office in recent years than any other business."

The state said many customers weren't aware of the early termination fees if they dropped DirecTV before the end of the first two years or certain undisclosed fees.

DirecTV agreed to pay $1 million to reimburse the Attorney General's Office for investigative costs and attorneys' fees. The settlement did not require proof, nor did it require DirecTV to admit to wrongdoing.

DirecTV declined to comment on the settlement by 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

To find out more about the settlement, go to, www.atg.wa.gov/pressrelease.aspx?&id=26982.

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