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Tribune and Charter Spar as New Year’s Eve Contract Deadline Approaches

Tribune Media is accusing Charter Communications of dragging its feet in negotiations as the clock ticks down on the New Year’s Eve contract renewal deadline covering 33 Tribune stations and cabler WGN America in New York, Los Angeles and other markets.

Tribune asserts that Charter has not been in touch with the Chicago-based TV station owner in recent days. Charter, the nation’s second-largest cable operator with about 16.1 million video subscribers, disputed Tribune’s characterization of the status of the talks.

The sides have been negotiating a new carriage deal to replace the pact that expires at 12:01 a.m. ET on Jan. 1. A shutdown would affect more than six million households across Charter’s systems.

“Despite our best efforts, Charter-Spectrum has not engaged in meaningful negotiations with us, and we have not heard from them for several days,” said Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman in a statement Sunday. “We don’t want our viewers to experience any disruption of service or miss any programming, especially Tuesday’s Tournament of Roses Parade or next week’s NFL Playoffs. We remain ready to negotiate and continue to hope that Charter-Spectrum will reach an agreement with us at fair market rates for the programming offered by our TV stations and cable network WGN America.”

Charter maintained that contract talks are ongoing.

“We are negotiating with Tribune and we hope to reach a fair agreement,” Charter said in a statement.

Carriage negotiations between large programmers and MVPDs have become increasingly contentious as both sides of the pay-TV arena adjust to new digital competitors and demands from viewers. Earlier Sunday, Disney and Verizon reached a new carriage pact for ESPN after some saber-rattling earlier in the month.

Talks between cable operators and TV station owners over retransmission consent fees for local outlets have become particularly fraught. MVPDs blame fast-rising retrans fees as a major contributor to spike in programming costs during the past decade. Broadcasters counter that local TV stations are consistently among the most-watched channels on MVPD lineups and thus they are justified in demanding high carriage fees.

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