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Alaska's TV drama between GCI and KTUU flares up -- yet again

Jill Burke
Watching television in Kivalina, a village in northwest Alaska. Loren Holmes photo

Dueling communications powerhouses KTUU and GCI are at it again, making public appeals aimed at convincing viewers and consumers that the companies are on the up and up -- it’s the other guy who's up to no good.

Depending on how nasty the fight gets, rural GCI subscribers could find KTUU gone from the cable lineup starting next month. Meanwhile, GCI and KTUU are spending a lot of energy trying to convince Alaskans the other company isn't playing fair. At the same time, both companies are letting Alaskans know there are a lot of other places to find KTUU programming -- ARCS, Dish, DirectTV and the mobile app Airwave.

The latest tensions center on whether GCI, Alaska’s cable giant, will continue to carry KTUU, an NBC affiliate broadcasting NBC programming and local news, on cable in Kodiak, Valdez, Barrow, Kotzebue, Nome, Cordova, Bethel and Alaska's North Slope. 

A contract that gives GCI permission to deliver KTUU programming to GCI cable subscribers is at the heart of the fight. The contract expires at the end of October, and the two sides haven't worked out terms for a new one, hence the warnings that programming rural residents are familiar with could change.

GCI has published an alert on its website that without a new agreement, it may not carry KTUU's signal in the affected communities.

Meanwhile, KTUU has delivered a stern reply, accusing GCI of being less than truthful. So what's the deal?

Yes, the two companies are squabbling over a new contract. But programming changes -- if there are to be programming changes -- wouldn't need to occur before 2015.

For insider reasons too muddy to explore, KTUU is under an FCC obligation to offer its signal throughout 2014 to GCI, and GCI is obligated to carry it in Anchorage. But only in Anchorage. GCI could drop the programming from the rural communities next month if a new agreement isn't reached, a tactic to wield leverage at the negotiating table.

Why does any of it matter? Alaskans like KTUU and NBC. It adds value to the cable packages GCI can sell to its subscribers statewide. And that statewide reach allows KTUU to show advertisers it has a broad reach, a valuable selling point.

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com