With kickoff fast approaching for Saturday afternoon’s NFL playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams, fans who get their football on GCI are praying for a Hail Mary that saves the day.
Barring a last-minute boardroom miracle that resolves contract negotiations and puts three local channels back on GCI, those fans would be wise to consider their options.
As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the impasse dragged on between cable provider GCI and local operators Coastal Television and Vision Alaska, a stalemate that is keeping three networks -- ABC, Fox and the CW -- off GCI.
The blackout started Jan. 1, the day after the previous three-year contract between the parties expired.
Since then, the standoff has cost GCI subscribers their final week with Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, the first two episodes of The Bachelor and the Rams’ wild-card victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
Now, two of the four NFL divisional playoff games could be blacked out -- Saturday’s game between the Packers and Rams and Sunday’s game between the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both are being aired by Fox.
GCI customers can watch the weekend’s other two games -- Buffalo-Baltimore on Saturday and Cleveland-Kansas City on Sunday -- on NBC and CBS, respectively.
If a contract isn’t reached by next weekend, GCI won’t be able to air the NFC championship game on Fox (CBS has the AFC championship game and the Super Bowl).
At issue: how much GCI should pay Coastal Television and Vision Alaska -- companies that operate the local ABC, Fox and CW affiliates under the banner “Your Alaska Link” -- to air their programming.
“The issue is they keep saying we want a massive increase. They want a 30% reduction of rates of what their last contract was,” Scott Centers, the CEO of Coastal Television, said Thursday afternoon. “They want to pay 30% less than last time.”
Not true, said GCI spokeswoman Heather Handyside.
“Our last contract was $8.5 million,” she said. “Our current proposal is about $13.5 million. So we’re (proposing) paying them $5 million more.”
The $13.5 million offer was made Wednesday, Handyside said.
Centers wouldn’t cite specific numbers of the past contract or current proposals, but he maintained his company is asking GCI to pay the market rate.
“We have to pay these networks for our programming. The amount GCI wants to pay us is less than what I pay the networks,” he said. “Everybody has to pay for this programming -- Hulu, Netflix, DirecTV. The rates they pay are the market rate and in line with what we are asking GCI to pay.”
Centers said Coastal Television and Vision Alaska proposed an extension of the old contract, but GCI refused the offer.
Handyside said exact opposite: GCI offered an extension of the old contract to keep the channels on the air while negotiations continue, but Coastal Television and Vision Alaska said no.
The two sides are doing some of their negotiating in public through a series of statements on their websites.
“GCI intentionally misleads cable subscribers. Demands almost 30% rate reduction from Alaskan TV channels,” says the headline on Your Alaska Link’s most recent update as of Thursday evening.
“GCI is fighting to keep your rates reasonable,” says the GCI webpage.
GCI is also making its case with an onscreen message seen when customers turn to ABC, Fox or the CW. “Are you frustrated? We are too,” it begins, later mentioning “unfair rate increases” it is being asked to pay.
So, without a Hail Mary pass that ends the blackout prior to Saturday’s kickoff, what options do GCI subscribers have?
GCI’s website lists a number of alternative, including one that’s akin to Apple telling people to try a PC: Sign up for a subscription or limited free trial to Hulu or YouTube TV -- video streaming services that compete against cable providers for customers.
Or you can go old-school and get some rabbit ears -- aka an antenna, which should let you pick up some if not all local channels, depending on where you live. Jason Gardner of The Satellite Guy recommends checking the DTV reception maps at the FCC website, which recommend what kind of antenna to get based on where you live.
Another possibility is getting satellite TV or finding a friend who gets it. Or, if you don’t mind mingling during a pandemic, you can head to a bar or restaurant with satellite TV. With capacities limited at Anchorage bars and restaurants, the best game plan is to arrive early.