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Hearst, DirecTV reach 11th-hour broadcast deal

A few days before a contract was set to run out over the right to carry Hearst Television stations — including WBAL-TV in Baltimore — with DirecTV, a deal has been reached.

The deal was reached Wednesday and announced Thursday, and allows for local stations such as WBAL, an NBC affiliate, to be carried by the satellite provider. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV is the second-largest satellite television provider and has 18.9 million subscribers. Satellite providers, like their cable counterparts, are prohibited by law from carrying broadcasters’ signals without permission.

Broadcast companies used to allow cable providers to carry their channels for free and made their money selling commercial time. But competition with cable networks for ad dollars has intensified, and the recession underscored how quickly ad spending can fall off when businesses need to cut spending.

Now broadcasters see these fees from cable providers as a crucial revenue stream.

In a separate spat over carriage fees, Hunt Valley-based Sinclair Broadcast Group remains at an impasse with Time Warner Cable Systems. Sinclair said on Tuesday that its latest offer to Time Warner Cable had been rejected without a counter-proposal, opening the door to the possibility of 33 of the company’s television stations being unavailable to about 8.5 million customers. Sinclair operates Fox, NBC, CBS and ABC affiliates in the 21 markets that would be impacted by the expiring carriage contract.

Time Warner Cable, which does not operate in Maryland, has 14.4 million customers in 28 states — but not Maryland — and is the second-largest cable operator in the U.S. About 4 million customers will be impacted if a deal is not reached by the end of the month.

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