Partial Super Bowl blackout lifts locally

A dispute between DirecTV and the local Fox affiliate's parent company won't stand in the way.

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WALLA WALLA -- Super Bowl Sunday won't be a day in the dark for local football fans who've been blocked out of Fox broadcasts.

DirecTV and the parent company of the local Fox affiliate, Northwest Broadcasting Inc., which will air the big game Sunday, have agreed to temporarily restore the network while negotiations for a new contract take place.

The station was live this morning and comes just four days before one of the most watched American television broadcasts each year.

Satellite provider DirecTV and Northwest Broadcasting have been at odds in their contract negotiations. As a result, the station went dark at the start of the year, when the previous contract expired.

But early this week DirecTV CEO Michael White asked Northwest Broadcasting to restore the channel for the Super Bowl. On Tuesday, Northwest Broadcasting CEO Brian Brady not only authorized the restoration for that day but said in a letter to White that the restoration should run four weeks "to allow us the time to reach a fair and equitable retransmission agreement."

In a prepared statement issued Tuesday, Dan Hartman, senior vice president of programming for DirecTV, said the company is eager to reach an agreement with Northwest Broadcasting.

"We're happy that Northwest granted our request to put the channels back on while we negotiate a deal," Hartman said. "We have restored the channels and are looking forward to getting a deal done as quickly as we can."

Northwest Broadcasting operates Fox stations in Spokane, the Tri-Cities, Yakima, Medford, Ore., and Binghamton, N.Y. Walla Walla receives its programming from the regional stations.

The blackout has been the cause of frustration for numerous DirecTV subscribers, including commercial operations. When sports fans were unable to catch one of the Seattle Seahawks playoff games at the Red Monkey Downtown Lounge, as well as its sister business the Stone Hut Bar and Grill, operators decided to add cable service from Charter Communications to their lineup to fill in the coverage, said General Manager Brian Shields.

Those two bars will be closed during the Super Bowl for rentals to private parties, he said. But the business expects to keep its Charter subscription while the negotiations take place between the other operators.

Officials from Charter Communications were not available to discuss whether the cable provider has experienced a climb in business as a result of the strained negotiations between DirecTV and Northwest Broadcasting.

In his letter Tuesday Brady said he's fielded numerous calls and e-mails from customers not only about the situation. On Monday he said he was contacted by a couple in Weston, Ore., frustrated because they can't watch Fox but also unable to afford early termination fees related to their agreement with DirecTV.

Brady has asked the company to refund early termination fees for customers who have left DirecTV during the blackout.

Hartman told the Yakima Herald-Republic those fees are between DirecTV and its customers, not a further part of the negotiation with Northwest Broadcasting.

At the heart of that dispute has been retransmission fees, the amount California-based DirecTV must pay to rebroadcast the station. DirecTV has said Northwest Broadcasting's proposal is too high.

In the meantime, the company has tried to make up the loss of Fox by airing an alternative Fox channel out of Los Angeles. The station, however, only reached about one-third of the subscribers in Yakima and the Tri-Cities, the Associated Press reported. Those subscribers were selected from an automated system that determines which viewers cannot access the channel over the air.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.



Super Bowl Sunday:

Looking for a place to watch the game. Here are some ideas:



Elks Lodge, 351 E. Rose St.:

The party starts at noon. For $8, participants get all-you-can-eat access to a taco and nacho buffet as well as other snacks; a view of the game projected onto a larger screen in addition to showings on several large-screen televisions; drink specials; access to prizes, giveaways and pre-game contests. The event is open to the public. Family seating is available, so all ages are welcome. For more information, call 525-2870.



Laht Neppur Brewing Co.: The brewery, open to all ages, will broadcasts the game at its locations in Walla Walla, Spokane and Alder streets; and Waitsburg, 444 Preston Ave.



Green Lantern: The bar at 1606 Isaacs Ave. will broadcast the game in high definition on seven television sets. Prizes, food, drink specials and the return of two special guest bartenders, Katrina and Lucie, will be part of the event.

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