DIRECTV pulls the plug on local news channels

November 4, 2010 • Local News

Roswell DIRECTV users may be wondering why they no longer have local news channels. On Nov. 1, DIRECTV initiated a blackout of local channels that affected Albuquerque, Roswell, Santa Fe and surrounding areas.

According [auth] to Robert Mercer, director of public relations for DIRECTV, the company “initially” told customers that they would not offer them local channels through their high definition TV service. Mercer said that the company’s spot beam system, or signal, cannot reach everyone in its distinguished market area, which includes Roswell.

“There are some markets where we offer HD channels on our spot beam,” Mercer said. “There are some markets where that spot beam doesn’t cover the entire market area. [This is] where customers are not able to receive the HD signal or [will get] a poor quality version.”

Despite DIRECTV’s initial declaration to customers, many were receiving local news channels through its HD program guide.

To eliminate confusion between those receiving and not receiving a signal for local programming, the company decided to remove all local channels from HD program guides. Not only has the blackout sparked widespread confusion in New Mexico, but customers in Texas are experiencing similar situations, according to William Anderson, president and general manager of KRQE News 13 in Albuquerque.

Anderson said that his station has received several calls and complaints about the blackout.

“We’re really upset about this,” Anderson said. “What they are telling us, is that the people never had it. [People are saying] ‘we had HD and now we don’t.’ HD is an important commodity [for us]. We invest a lot in it. We do our local news in HD … our viewers are upset, and they’re confused about what the problem is.”

Misinformation between customers, DIRECTV and KRQE News 13 has led many to believe that the blackout was put into place by local news stations.

“I really don’t appreciate their customers being told ‘this is a station problem,’” Anderson said. “We don’t want viewers to be confused … we just want them to get accurate information and [for DIRECTV to] fix the problem.”

In the meantime, it looks like that may not happen. According to Mercer, DIRECTV also adjusted the size of its spot beam, in order to avoid interference with beams in adjoining markets. Adjusting the spot beam enables the company to reuse its bandwidth more efficiently, which the company needs to do “because it’s a limited resource.”

Mercer said that it also allows them reach more customers. Mercer hopes that customers are no longer confused about their HD service with the recent “programming guide change,” or blackout.

“They were told that ‘we don’t offer HD signals [for local channels], but we can provide you the national ones,’” Mercer said. “To avoid confusion for the vast number of customers, we removed the local HD channels. We had to clean up all of those channels to make sure [people] weren’t confused [that] they could get HD locals.”

Anderson hopes that local TV stations and DIRECTV can work something out.

“We’re still in HD and customers are looking for alternatives,” Anderson said. “We’re just really wanting to restore service.”

Some local alternatives for customers looking to make an HD switch are Cable ONE and DISH Network.

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