Story Updated (1:00 a.m. 10-16-13):
Viewers in nine rural areas of Alaska will continue to have NBC programming and newscasts from KTUU-TV on GCI cable systems after the two companies announced they have agreed to extend negotiations over an ongoing contract dispute. The arrangement lasts through November 8.
GCI and KTUU-TV announced the extension just after midnight Wednesday, which was the deadline set by GCI for removal of KTUU-TV programming from its cable systems.
In brief statements, both companies indicated their willingness to reach a new agreement.
“During this interim period, GCI remains committed to working and resolving this matter of reaching a fair and long-term agreement with KTUU,” said David Morris, GCI spokesperson.
“Negotiations will continue and we hope that a fair market-based deal can be achieved without unnecessarily putting Alaskans in the middle of a complicated negotiation,” said Brad Hillwig, KTUU-TV’s marketing director. Hillwig added, "While we are pleased that Alaskans in many rural areas will not immediately lose access to KTUU-TV on GCI Cable, the threat still remains on November 8th."
The interim arraignment means GCI’s carriage of KTUU-TV, including NBC entertainment, sports and Channel 2 News, will continue in Barrow, Bethel, Cordova, Kodiak, Kotzebue, Kuparuk, Nome, North Slope, and Valdez until November 8.
This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.
Editor's Note: Channel 2’s Neil Torquiano contributed to an update of this story.
Original Story (6:05 p.m. 10-15-13):
Negotiations in an ongoing Alaska broadcast dispute apparently failed to bear fruit Monday, with the state’s largest TV station and cable company still unable to reach an agreement despite a pending deadline Tuesday.
Channel 2 parent firm KTUU-TV and communications provider GCI are working to strike an accord on future fees to be paid by GCI for retransmitting KTUU-TV’s signal to nine areas of Alaska: Barrow, Bethel, Cordova, Kodiak, Kotzebue, Kuparuk, Nome, the North Slope and Valdez. The negotiations also involve Anchorage, but its GCI signal isn’t involved in the immediate dispute.
While KTUU-TV has offered to let GCI relay its signal to the rural communities free of charge through 2015, on what the Federal Communications Commission calls a “must-carry” basis, GCI said last week that it won’t carry Channel 2 in the disputed areas unless a deal is reached by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
According to GCI spokesperson David Morris, the company has recently informed viewers via letters and on-air notices that GCI’s retransmission of Channel 2 would be replaced by alternative programming, following the Sept. 30 expiration of the rural agreement. He says GCI is unconcerned about federal requirements that a cable company notify a TV station and cable subscribers 30 days before changing or removing the station’s signal, because officials believe Channel 2 has no right to be broadcast while talks proceed.
“We don’t see that as an issue,” Morris said.
While Morris didn’t have direct knowledge of the negotiations, he says that even the duration of any deal has been a key sticking point, with the companies’ larger agreement for areas including Anchorage set to expire Dec. 30.
“One thing we’re looking for is a longer-term agreement,” Morris said. “This has been a very good agreement between GCI and KTUU, and we’d like to continue it.”
Morris says that while retransmission talks between the companies are an ongoing process, the recent breakdown in communications has been unusual.
“It’s not that you ever leave the negotiating table -- it’s just very rare not to return each other’s calls,” Morris said.
KTUU-TV’s marketing director, Brad Hillwig, says the company’s offer to let GCI carry its programming for free through 2015 is meant to keep lines of communication open while the two sides discuss the details.
“This deadline that’s been put in place by GCI shouldn’t have any bearing on 2013 or 2014,” Hillwig said.
Hillwig deplored the dispute’s effect on Channel 2 and GCI’s audiences, calling GCI’s move to limit programming “a tactic in that negotiation.”
“TV viewers in Alaska should never really have to know the word ‘retransmission,’” Hillwig said. “It’s unfortunate that viewers have been put in the middle of the process.”
In a Friday statement, KTUU-TV General Manager Andy MacLeod took issue with an earlier GCI statement that “as a result of that dispute, KTUU may remove their signal from your community.”
“The only threat to the 7,000 residential rural Alaskans receiving NBC programming and Channel 2 News on GCI Cable has come from GCI which has the sole discretion to decide whether KTUU-TV is carried on its rural cable systems outside of the Anchorage (designated market area),” MacLeod wrote. “KTUU-TV has been on rural GCI systems for over a decade.”
Morris countered Friday that while the company “would like to continue to carry Channel 2 and its full programming,” it still bears the costs of maintaining its rural infrastructure whether or not Channel 2’s signal is available for free.
Both Morris and MacLeod confirmed that negotiations had included contract terms of up to 12 years in length -- which MacLeod characterized as markedly longer than common industry contracts of three to five years in length.
A GCI blackout of Channel 2 would leave its programming available via other means in the affected towns, with satellite-based GCI competitors DirectTV and Dish Network still carrying the channel, and the Alaska Rural Communications Service airing some Channel 2 programs. Channel 2 News broadcasts can also be viewed on KTUU’s mobile app, Airwave AK, live or on-demand up to three days after they have aired.
Although Hillwig acknowledged Tuesday that viewers can see Channel 2 programming on other platforms, he hopes that the two companies can resolve their differences before GCI’s deadline.
“We hope it doesn’t come to that, first and foremost,” Hillwig said. “We really don’t want Alaskans waking up tomorrow to blank screens.”
Channel 2’s Dan Carpenter contributed information to this story.