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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

DirecTV dispute could keep game off air for some

It’s not just the possibility of missing Super Bowl XLVI that is frustrating Amy Kelly, a DirecTV customer.

“It’s the ‘Today Show’ and Brian Williams every night,” said Kelly, of Hollis. “It just hurts.”

That being said, Kelly isn’t exactly pleased that a dispute between parent company Sunbeam Television Corp. and DirecTV may force her and other viewers to switch carriers or find somewhere else to watch the big game.

“We’ve got a really nice set-up with a big screen TV and a nice, big room, and I’d love to have people over,” Kelly said. “But I can’t ask anybody to come over.”

The dispute could mean Nashua-area New England Patriots fans with DirecTV will have to hit the road to watch their team take on the New York Giants on Super Bowl Sunday. WHDH-TV Channel 7, the local broadcaster of this year’s Super Bowl, has been blacked out since the two sides failed to come to an agreement.

Boston’s WHDH-TV Channel 7 has posted a notice on its Web site that Sunbeam Television Corp., the parent company of WHDH and WLVI Channel 56, could not come to an agreement regarding a renewal of its carriage agreement with DirecTV.

WHDH is the NBC affiliate for Nashua-area cable subscribers. Kelly, a DirecTV subscriber for almost six years, said she is “livid” about the problems she’s been having with the NBC and CW networks for two weeks now.

“It’s killing me,” she said.

Until an agreement is reached, DirecTV subscribers will not be able to view WHDH and may miss the big game if the dispute continues through Feb. 5.

DirecTV released an explanation to its Greater Boston NBC and CW viewers stating that its contract with Sunbeam Television expired Jan. 14 and that Sunbeam “ignored” DirecTV’s requests to keep the channels available during negotiations.

“Sunbeam wants to raise its new fees by more than 300 percent, so they pulled the plug on customers like you until everyone is willing to pay up,” DirecTV officials said.

The blackouts reportedly impact 200,000 DirecTV subscribers in the Greater Boston area.

It’s not just residents who could be affected. The Nashua Garden, one of the city’s popular downtown sports bars, is a DirecTV customer and may have to come up with a back-up plan if the outages continue on through Super Bowl Sunday.

Typically, the bar features beer specials and decent crowds for the big game.

“Obviously, it will affect us,” said Jim Sano, a Nashua Garden employee. “People won’t stick around if we can’t get the game on.”

Sano said the main reason the bar gets DirecTV is because of the NFL Sunday Ticket.

“If we can’t get that, we’ll probably drop them and just use Comcast or whatever,” Sano said.

Viewers at Castro’s Back Room, the Garden’s Main Street neighbor and sister business, won’t have a problem seeing the game, Sano said. Castro’s is a Comcast cable customer, but patrons aren’t allowed to bring beer into the smoke shop.

In the Bay State, the issue has come to a head as U.S. Sens. Scott Brown and John Kerry have each expressed concerns to the feuding parties.

Brown issued a letter to Sunbeam Television and DirecTV officials asking them to restore WHDH and WLVI for DirecTV customers while negotiations continue.

“I am concerned that my constituents in Boston have become leverage in a business negotiation,” Brown wrote to Edmund Ansin, Sunbeam president, and Michael White, DirecTV chairman, president and CEO.

On Jan. 14, Miami-based Sunbeam denied DirecTV customers in south Florida access to their local FOX station, blacking out NFL divisional playoff games between the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints, and the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers the next day.

Customers in Boston also lost their local NBC and CW affiliates, according to DirecTV officials.

DirecTV customer service representative Leanna Miller said the Sunbeam negotiations have been ongoing for two weeks and should not take much longer.

DirecTV officials seem to expect Sunbeam will allow them to carry the Super Bowl in Greater Boston even if the carriage agreement dispute is not resolved by game day – as it did allow Miami subscribers to watch the NFC Championship this past weekend.

A statement released Sunday from DirecTV on their company Facebook page suggests the viewer backlash may be for nothing:

“Congratulations to the AFC Champion New England Patriots! Since Sunbeam TV returned the FOX NFL playoff game to Miami fans today, we look forward to also watching with all of our New England customers as the Patriots play for the NFL Championship in Super Bowl XLVI on NBC on February 5.”

NBC also has planned to stream the entire Super Bowl game online for the first time this year.

WHDH did say viewers can receive Channels 7 and 56 over the air and from other cable and satellite providers.

Kelly is looking at new providers to give her the news and sports coverage she needs, she said.

WHDH has stated that they are seeking “fair market value” for their signal transmission and hope to be back on DirecTV as soon as possible.

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or Follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).