DirecTV Brings Tribune Clash to the FCC




By Julia Boorstin, CNBC Correspondent

NEW YORK ( CNBC) -- It isn't so uncommon for disputes between content and distribution giants to leave consumers without channels. But DirecTV's ( DTV) battle with Tribune isn't just another conflict over retransmission fees. It's turned into an indictment of the Tribune company's management in bankruptcy, and what DirecTV calls "another case of runaway Wall Street Greed," in a press release issued when DirecTV filed a complaint with the FCC Monday afternoon.

The largest satellite TV company (DTV) not only accuses Tribune of negotiating in bad faith, it suggests that broadcast licenses have been "prematurely, and inappropriately, transferred to bankruptcy creditors." DirecTV is asking the FCC for "immediate intervention and expedited ruling against Tribune."

The negotiation started off fairly straightforward. Tribune wants DirecTV to pay to carry its 23 local broadcast channels. The day the two companies' contract was set to expire, DirecTV said it and Tribune had come to terms on a deal to broadcast the stations. An hour later, Tribune said it had not reached an agreement: the 23 local stations and cable network WGN America were blacked out at midnight on April 1.

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This is an increasingly big deal--more than 5 million DirecTV customers don't have access to at least one channel. Tribune's stations include a number of CW affiliates, like KTLA in Los Angeles. In Seattle and other places where Tribune owns Fox affiliates, DirecTV subscribers will miss out on "New Girl" Tuesday and American Idol Wednesday. With Major League Baseball's season starting this week, Cubs and White Sox fans will lose access to the games via WGN America, and Philadelphia DirecTV subscribers won't be able to watch the Phillies.

What exactly happened? DirecTV says in its complaint that the day after the two companies reached an "agreement in principle," Tribune "reneged on that agreement."

The problem, DirecTV argues, is that it's unclear who is in charge. DirecTV writes in the complaint: "Tribune later confirmed that its management had been overruled by the hedge fund and investment bank creditors." Here's where the allegation of "runaway greed" comes into play. DirecTV argues that Oaktree Partners, Angelo Gordon, JPMorgan Chase ( JPM), Bank of America ( BAC) and Citibank "forced Tribune's senior management to renege... in a brazen attempt to extract yet another bailout on the backs of innocent viewers."