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WSYR-TV Removed From Verizon FiOS TV Lineups

New Story Posted 1/15: WSYR-TV has returned to Verizon FiOS lineups.

Updated 1/13 — SYRACUSE — ABC affiliate NewsChannel 9 (WSYR-TV) has been blacked out from Verizon FiOS TV systems in the Syracuse area after Verizon’s retransmission consent deal with the station expired overnight.  It’s all because Verizon and WSYR-TV’s parent company, Newport Television, have not been able to reach an agreement over how much Verizon should pay to carry Newport stations on its FiOS systems.

WSYR-TV Blacked-Out on Verizon FiOS TV
Reader-submitted photo of FiOS blackout message viewers are seeing when tuning in WSYR-TV on January 13, 2012.

(Although the deal expired at 11:59pm, the Post-Standard says WSYR-TV wasn’t disconnected from FiOS until about 12:45am Friday.)

The situation between Verizon and Newport is similar to the current conflict between Time Warner Cable and cable sports network MSG.  The latter has left Time Warner subscribers without access to coverage of Rangers, Knicks or Sabres games since New Year’s Day.  In both cases, there’s no telling how long it could be until new deals are in place and the blacked-out channels return to their lineups.

Earlier Coverage from Thursday, January 11:

WSYR-TV Blackout Deadline Looms for Verizon FiOS

SYRACUSE — Less than 8 hours from now, customers of Verizon FiOS TV service could see NewsChannel 9 (WSYR-TV) disappear from their lineups. The current retransmission contract between Verizon and channel 9’s owner, Newport Television, expires at midnight tonight. As of late Thursday afternoon, both sides say there’s no deal, but they’re still negotiating.

As we explained when we first reported this possible blackout on Sunday, FCC regulations give local broadcast TV stations two options when it comes to having their signals carried on cable or fiberoptic services:

  1. The station can force the cable company to carry the station. In this case, the cable company is required to carry the station, but does so for free.
  2. The station can demand compensation for retransmission rights. In this case, the cable company has the right to refuse the terms, which usually leads to negotiation. But if the existing deal expires without a new deal in place, the cable company loses its retransmission rights, so the station must be blacked out.

In this case, WSYR-TV’s owner, Newport Television, has chosen option #2. And the dispute doesn’t only involve WSYR-TV, but other Newport stations in markets where Verizon provides FiOS TV service. Within the northeast region, Albany Fox affiliate WXXA and two stations in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania fall under the same umbrella: all four stations will be yanked off FiOS lineups in their respective markets if a deal isn’t reached by midnight tonight.

What’s the Impact?

With Verizon being a relative newcomer to the Syracuse area, one might wonder: does Newport have much to lose? Will a significant number of viewers be lost if WSYR-TV is blacked out tonight? Most of us will never know.

John Bonomo, Director of Media Relations for Verizon, tells, “we do not provide subscriber numbers for different or specific geographies.” He explains that’s because Verizon doesn’t want competitors (like Time Warner Cable) to know how many subscribers it has in a specific market. He says, “We only issue a companywide (or national) number of FiOS TV subscribers, and that is 4 million.”

Bonomo also offers Verizon’s official statement on the negotiation process:

Verizon continues to negotiate with Newport to reach an agreement on contract terms that are reasonable and in our subscribers’ best interest, so that our customers can continue to receive the best possible television service and content they have come to expect. To date, Verizon has reached agreements with all other broadcasters in the Newport markets. Verizon has repeatedly offered Newport fair fees consistent with the marketplace, but so far Newport has refused our offers.

Should Newport decide to remove its programming from the FiOS lineup, the WSYR signal is free over the air with a digital antenna. Plus, FiOS TV offers ABC programming on demand and all of the channels stream some of their programming on their own websites. For football fans, Verizon Wireless, through its agreement with the NFL, makes NFL programming available on select mobile devices.

Newport’s Side

Newport’s statement appears right at the top of and websites for other stations which could be impacted by the blackout. When viewers have asked for updates on NewsChannel 9’s Facebook page, the station has repeatedly pointed viewers back to the statement on the website. We repeated that statement in its entirety here on Sunday — there’s little change today, as Newport still says “we do not believe Verizon FiOS TV will be carrying NewsChannel 9 WSYR-TV after January 12th, 2012.”

Throughout the day today, the station has also been running a crawl, almost non-stop (save for commercial breaks) alerting viewers that WSYR-TV will be pulled off the FiOS lineup at midnight tonight. Just as on the website, the crawl encourages FiOS customers to call Verizon and threaten to cancel service.

Impact for Viewers

If a deal is not reached in time, FiOS customers will be losing channels 9 (the SD feed), 509 (the HD feed) and 470 (subchannel 9.2). The impending blackout will not affect subscribers of Time Warner, New Visions Cable or any satellite service, and of course, WSYR-TV will continue to be available over-the-air.

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