DirecTV Blames Bankruptcy Mess for Pulled Tribune Stations, Seeks FCC Intervention

Tribune denies it ever had a deal with DirecTV as 5 million customers remain without Tribune stations

In a filing seeking FCC intervention in its dispute with Tribune Broadcasting, DirecTV blames "the mess Tribune made of its operations leading into bankruptcy" for Tribune stations going dark in 19 cities.

The stations went dark for 5 million DirecTV customers over the weekend because of a dispute between the satellite provider and Tribune over retransmission fees. Twenty-three stations, as well as the national WGN America, stopped airing for DirecTV customers.

Also read: Tribune TV Stations Pulled From DirecTV

The satellite provider asked the Federal Communications Commission Monday for an expedited ruling against Tribune, accusing it of "failing to negotiate in good faith."

DirecTV said on Thursday it had reached a deal with Tribune, but Tribune denied that soon after. In a statement to TheWrap on Monday, Tribune said it had "never reached agreement with DirecTV on all the terms of the contract-not in principle, not by handshake and not on paper." 

"We didn't have an agreement on Thursday, March 29, and we do not have an agreement now," Tribune said.

Tribune accused DirecTV of claiming "bad faith" as a negotiating tactic. "Tribune seeks an agreement with DirecTV that is similar to those DirecTV already has in place with hundreds of other content providers," Tribune said in its statement.

After it entered bankruptcy in December 2008, Tribune sought FCC approval to transfer its broadcast licenses to a new entity, with three of Tribune's largest creditors — JP Morgan Chase Bank; Angelo, Gordon & Co. and Oaktree Partners — controlling 30 percent of the voting and equity interests.

Also read: Judge Won't Reconsider Tribune Bankruptcy Case Until May — at the Earliest

DirecTV claims that after Tribune managers came to terms with DirecTV Thursday, they were overruled by their company's creditors. DirecTV contends that the creditors lack authority over Tribune operations, however, because the FCC has not yet approved the transfer of the licenses.

"The result is millions of everyday viewers are forced to suffer with the mess Tribune made of its operations leading into bankruptcy, and to make matters worse, now allowing America’s wealthiest hedge funds and investment banks to take advantage of innocent viewers," DirecTV said in a news release. It said in its FCC filing that it still doesn't know if it should be dealing with Tribune management or creditors.

But Tribune sought to downplay any division on its side, saying in its statement that "Tribune management, with the full support of its Board of Directors, remains firmly committed to an expeditious negotiation."

The stations went dark at midnight on the beginning of April 1, when the contract between DirecTV and Tribune expired.