DirecTV users lose The Weather Channel over fee dispute

How badly will DirecTV's 20 million viewers miss The Weather Channel? 

Subscribers of the largest satellite TV provider lost access to the popular cable channel shortly after midnight on Tuesday because of a dispute over retransmission fees. The conflict highlights the growing friction between content producers and distributors over such "carriage" fees, a growing source of profits for media companies. 

Weather Channel spokeswoman Shirley Powell said the channel is seeking a 1 cent per subscriber increase in what DirecTV pays to carry the channel. DirecTV wants a fee cut. The Weather Channel earns roughly 13 cents per subscriber in retransmission fees, according to data from market research firm SNL Kagan.

DirecTV customers won't be able to access The Weather Channel's video feed over the Internet, which Powell said the broadcaster offers only during weather emergencies such as Hurricane Sandy. "We do that because people will often lose their TV reception during those times, and we want them to have information to keep them safe and prepared," she said in an email.

Both companies are playing hardball. DirecTV is encouraging viewers to tune into its Weather Nation service as an alternative, which it said focuses solely on the weather, a dig at the Weather Channel's reality TV programs.

“Consumers understand there are now a variety of other ways to get weather coverage, free of reality show clutter, and that The Weather Channel does not have an exclusive on weather coverage – the weather belongs to everyone," said Dan York, chief content officer at DirecTV, in a statement. 

For its part, The Weather Channel, wants DirecTV viewers to contact members of Congress about the dust-up, which it calls a "public safety issue."

Carriage fees are a growing source of profit for media companies. SNL Kagan estimates that media companies will earn $7.2 billion in such fees by 2019, an increase over more than 130 percent from $3.3 billion last year.

Earlier this year, customers of Time Warner Cable (TWC) endured a one-month blackout of CBS (CBS) because of a retransmission fee dispute.

  • Jonathan Berr

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