The proposed merger between DirecTV and AT&T Inc. is looking more and more certain, but some media executives are saying regulators should take a closer look at the merger’s implications on Hispanic communities before signing off on the deal.
ZGS Communications, a Spanish-language broadcaster and the largest independent affiliate of the Telemundo network, blasted DirecTV’s track record with regard to providing Hispanic-aimed content, in particular its own stations. In a public filing to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission this week, the company’s chief executive, Ronald Gordon, accused the satellite TV provider of denying carriage to ZGS-owned stations in major markets and cheating subscribers with deceptive advertisements claiming that it offers all local stations.
Gordon claims ZGS has secured “near-universal” carriage of its stations on cable, satellite and telephone carriers, but said stations in key markets with large Hispanic populations -- including Orlando, Tampa and Washington, D.C. -- have experienced “extraordinary difficulty” securing deals with DirecTV:
“DirecTV has systematically denied the Hispanic community access to its local stations, which provide daily news and public safety information, weather reports and emergency notices, as well as extensive programing of local interest to the community. Furthermore, DirecTV has continuously misled potential and existing subscribers by advertising that it carries all local stations, when it in fact, does not.”
A spokesperson for DirecTV did not respond to requests for comment. The company has long touted a commitment to Hispanic audiences and recently launched a Spanish-language subscription-based streaming service called Yaveo, a first-of-its-kind product, which offers programming from Latin American and Spain.
It’s not uncommon for media companies to use the merger review process as an opportunity to air out their carriage grievances with pay-TV providers.
First announced in May 2014, AT&T’s $48.5 billion takeover bid for DirecTV is set to be cleared by the Justice Department, according to Bloomberg, which cited an anonymous source. The merger, which would make AT&T the largest U.S. pay-TV provider, is still subject to approval by the FCC.
Gordon said the FCC should weigh carefully the communications landscape before approving the deal and evaluate ways to promote service to minority communities.
“At minimum, the Commission should strongly urge the powerful AT&T-DirecTV monolith to give serious consideration to fully and effetely serving local communities and address ZGS’ longstanding carriage request,” he wrote.