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DIRECTV, Hearst continue negotiations ahead of potential blackout

AT&T Inc.'s DIRECTV and Hearst Corp. remained locked in negotiations to reach a new retransmission contract covering more than 30 TV stations.

At around 4:45 p.m. on Jan. 3, Hearst announced on its stations' websites that discussions would continue into the evening. Pay TV operators pay retransmission-consent fees to broadcasters in exchange for permission to carry local stations' signals. Protracted negotiations related to those fees sometimes lead to channel blackouts if a contract expires before a new one is put in place.

Their contract was set to expire Dec. 31, 2019, but was extended until Jan. 2 at 3 p.m. ET, before being pushed ahead for another 24 hours. Throughout the negotiating process, there has not been any disruption in service.

AT&T issued a statement prior to the first extension expressing disappointment that Hearst put its customers into the middle of what "ought to remain a private business matter." The company said it remains on the side of consumer choice and value, while Hearst is "known to often withhold its stations to try to increase its fees for free broadcast TV."

For its part, Hearst has kept its viewers apprised of the negotiations and the potential for nonrenewal on its stations' websites, with messaging noting that it has a long history of successfully concluding carriage agreements with cable and satellite distributors without service disruptions.

The parties may be motivated to reach a pact ahead of high-profile NFL playoff games this weekend. Hearst's TV roster is largely composed of ABC (US) and NBC (US) affiliates and includes a couple of CBS (US) stations.

ABC is scheduled to simulcast ESPN (US)'s coverage of the Jan. 4 match-up between Buffalo and Houston at 4:30 p.m. ET, before CBS airs the Tennessee-New England contest that night. NBC will televise Seattle-Philadelphia in the late afternoon window on Jan. 5. Hearst does not have any affiliation deals with FOX (US), which kicks off Sunday's Wild Card coverage with Minnesota-New Orleans at 1 p.m. ET.