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Tournament hunting? WBTV still dark on AT&T U-verse in contract dispute

March 17, 2017 12:54 PM

UPDATED March 17, 2017 04:42 PM

As the NCAA men’s basketball playoffs rolled through its second day Friday, WBTV (Channel 3) remained dark on AT&T U-verse cable in the Charlotte region.

Raycom Media, which owns WBTV and runs 62 other TV stations across the nation, has been unable to come to terms with AT&T on how much the cable company will pay to carry Raycom stations in 23 cities, including Charlotte.

Such contract disputes have become common between station groups, networks and cable providers and are usually settled within days. WBTV has been off the cable system since 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

AT&T U-verse customers tuning to the CBS affiliate for games Friday got a message saying that because of the impasse the cable system could not show WBTV’s signal.

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Each side blames the other in dispute.

“We share our customers’ frustration because Raycom is deliberately preventing WBTV from reaching their homes until Raycom receives a significant increase in fees even though the same people can still watch its shows for free over-the-air on channel 3 and, typically, at cbs.com or using the CBS app,” AT&T said in a statement. “We have asked Raycom repeatedly to allow our customers to watch while we work this business matter out privately, but Raycom continues to refuse.”

In a statement, Pat LaPlatney, Raycom Media’s president, said his company does not want a disruption to its audience. “These retransmission consent agreements are important free-market negotiations that sustain broadcast localism. It is unfortunate that AT&T U-Verse appears to be involving their customers in their broader business strategy.”

WBTV remains on the region’s dominant cable system, Spectrum, and is available through other providers.

In addition to games on CBS being carried on Channel 3, NCAA Tournament matches are also being shown on truTV, TNT and TBS and are not affected by the dispute involving AT&T and Raycom.

Among the CBS games jeopardized for AT&T U-verse customers Friday were Michigan-Oklahoma State, Louisville-Jacksonville State and Dayton-Wichita State.

On Jan. 1, a similar dispute kept WSOC (Channel 9) and sister station WAXN (Channel 64) off U-verse and DirecTV for a day before a contract was reached between AT&T and Cox Broadcasting of Atlanta, which owns the two stations.

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007, @WashburnChObs