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Dave Roepke, Published January 09 2009

KXJB taken off DirecTV lineup

Local CBS affiliate KXJB was removed from the lineup of DirecTV’s satellite system Thursday, affecting more than 25,000 area subscribers.

The move came after a 5 p.m. deadline for the satellite cable company and the station owner to agree on how much DirecTV should pay for the rights to retransmit the KXJB signal. The previous agreement expired Dec. 31.

KXJB General Manager Charley Johnson said Hoak Media Corp., the Dallas company that owns sister station KVLY and operates KXJB through a licensing agreement, did not receive a counterproposal Thursday.

The retransmission agreement under negotiation, fees for which are figured on a per-subscriber basis, should affect about 25,000 to 30,000 DirecTV viewers in the area, Johnson said. He declined to discuss specific dollar amounts, but said the parties’ proposals are pretty close.

“They’re not very far apart,” he said. “In negotiations like this, it doesn’t take much to seem like an ocean.”

Robert Mercer, a spokesman for DirecTV, said in an e-mail that KXJB’s asking price has “been nothing short of outrageous.”

“They have adopted an extremely intransigent and unreasonable position and by giving in to their demands for a significant fee increase, we potentially place a financial burden on our customers, which we are not willing to do in this difficult economic climate,” Mercer wrote.

Johnson said the station’s owners are suggesting a rate based on existing contracts in other markets.

“We’re just asking for something comparable. We’re not asking for anything remotely outrageous,” he said.

KXJB – home of the “CSI” franchise, “Survivor” and the AFC half of NFL broadcasts, including two playoff games this weekend – is still available to DirecTV subscribers via an antenna, Johnson said. For those near the Fargo and Grand Forks, N.D., metro areas, an indoor antenna may work, he said. Residents farther out may need to use an outdoor antenna or may not be able to receive an over-the-air signal.

Sports bars with DirecTV wouldn’t be able to show the playoff games through their satellite cable hook-up, but many are likely to have a backup option. Christi Jacobson, manager of Tailgators Sports Café in Fargo, said in addition to DirecTV, the bar has a CableOne subscription so it can show University of North Dakota hockey games.

Fargo-Moorhead is far from the only market where stations and cable providers are haggling over carriage fees.

Johnson said a number of contracts across the country expired at the end of 2008, and, according to news reports, similar disputes have sprung up in markets in Oregon, Kansas and Utah. CBS this week signed a broad pact with Time Warner Cable for retransmission rights to its corporate-owned affiliates and other programming.

Federal law has allowed broadcasters to charge cable companies for carrying their signals since 1992, Johnson said, but few have done so until recently.

“This has been brewing for a couple of years now,” he said. “Broadcasters have finally come to their senses.”

According to trade publication Multichannel News, a report by research firm SNL Kagan showed retransmission fees for stations owned by publicly traded companies rose 32 percent from the first three quarters of 2007 to the first three quarters of 2008.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535