I know Alaskans have been frustrated over the past few weeks by the interruption to programming on ABC, FOX and CW channels. We’re frustrated too. GCI offers more than 300 channels to our customers, and we have a long history of wrapping up programming negotiations quickly and seamlessly. Unfortunately, not every negotiation goes as planned, and I want to make sure you know why our current negotiations with Coastal Television and Vision Alaska — the two companies that own ABC, FOX and CW channels in Alaska — remain unresolved.
Though GCI started negotiations in July 2020, we still have not been able to arrive at an agreement with our counterparts across the negotiating table. GCI has made almost a dozen contract proposals over the past six months. Each has been rejected, and we have remained millions of dollars apart. In late December 2020, when our FOX, ABC and CW contract was about to expire, GCI proposed a temporary extension to continue broadcasting the stations while negotiations continued. Unfortunately, that extension proposal was rejected by Coastal Television and Vision Alaska. Without a contract or a temporary extension, GCI can’t legally broadcast those channels. That’s why, on Jan. 1, 2021, GCI was forced to suspend ABC, FOX and CW programming. And that’s why our customers are missing some of their favorite shows.
There is a lot of misinformation out there, so I wanted to share some facts with our customers. You may have seen Coastal Television and Vision Alaska claims that GCI is proposing drastic cuts that will put them out of business. That’s just not true. Yes, the contract is complicated and there are many ways to frame proposals. But the fact is, the proposals GCI has made to Coastal Television and Vision Alaska would result in millions of additional dollars over the value of their previous contract.
While we are inching closer to a deal, there are still large differences to be worked out on a few key issues that would affect the TV rates for tens of thousands of Alaskans. But we’re being persistent. In the hopes of restoring the stations so its customers could watch this weekend’s football games, GCI increased its offer and sent yet another proposal to the stations on Friday afternoon.
We know that these broadcasters are in a tough spot. Contract values are, in part, based upon the number of viewers who tune in to stations like FOX, ABC and CW. That’s how we determine how much programming is worth. Coastal Television and Vision Alaska, like other broadcast stations across the country, are struggling as their viewership declines as more and more content — including local broadcast TV — becomes available online, sometimes even for free. We recognize that a declining audience is a challenge for Coastal Television and Vision Alaska, but it isn’t reasonable to expect our customers to make up the difference for their losses through unreasonable rate increases for the rapidly declining number of customers still watching the channels.
I know none of this information relieves the frustration of missing NFL playoff games, Alex Trebek’s final episodes of “Jeopardy,” “The Bachelor” and more, but I hope it better explains the current situation and addresses some of the claims you may have heard.
We’re sorry, Alaska. We’ve tried our best on this and hope to get to a resolution soon. We’ll keep trying. In the meantime, our customers can visit www.gci.com/tv/negotiations to learn about customer credits, how to get a free streaming device, and suggestions to help you access your favorite shows.
Heather Handyside is the chief communications officer for GCI.
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