For thousands of local residents who aren’t among the relative few holding coveted tickets to the Merrie Monarch Festival’s hula competition, the live statewide broadcast by KFVE-TV of the three nights of hula is a must view.
But for DirecTV subscribers, those who tune in tonight expecting to see the festival’s Miss Aloha Hula competition will be greeted instead by a message from the satellite television service provider.
“It has the programs listed but it says, ‘The owner of this channel has removed it from the DirecTV lineup despite our repeated requests to keep it available to you. Please visit directvpromise.com for the latest and most accurate information on this station’s return,’” said Leigh Critchlow of Volcano, who retired from the Tribune-Herald as community editor in 2014 and is a DirecTV subscriber.
KFVE has been embroiled in a monthslong contract dispute with DirecTV, which was purchased in 2015 for $49 billion by AT&T, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Directvpromise.com tells the satellite provider’s side, with a message that reads, in part: “We want to get KFVE back into your local lineup as soon as possible, but by law, KFVE’s owner, HITV, has exclusive control over whether that station remains available on DirecTV or not. We share your frustration because HITV is deliberately blocking KFVE from reaching your home unless HITV receives a significant increase in fees even though you can still watch its shows for free over-the-air on Channel 9 and, often, at the station’s website. We want to resolve this matter quickly and reasonably, and appreciate your patience while we attempt to do just that.”
KFVE General Manager John Fink took to his station’s own airwaves and purchased radio commercials to tell his version of the story, which differs greatly from an alleged demand for a significant fee increase. Fink told the Tribune-Herald last week his station “had been in a fair partnership for 12 years with DirecTV, and upon negotiating this time they basically told us there’s no negotiations.”
Fink, who called it a “David versus Goliath situation,” said DirecTV is demanding KFVE “put on our signal for free or they will not carry us.”
“We feel we are valued as a local station providing news and local content on a regular basis every week,” he said. “And for 12 years, DirecTV seemed to agree with us. And suddenly, when we went to negotiate in September leading up to October when we pulled off, they decided, ‘No, you should be thankful just to be on our system.’
“We are not willing to accept their logic. It’s like you go into Safeway or KTA and somebody throws 20 items into your cart. And you go, ‘I don’t want those items. And they go, ‘Well, if you shop here, you have to pay for ’em. That’s basically how the cable system works — where you get channels that none of us want and we pay for them, a lot of small cable channels that people pay for, unbeknownst to them, because they just get a lump sum bill.”
The claim of DirecTV’s unwillingness to pay KFVE a fee wasn’t made in Fink’s long-running TV and radio spots. Asked for a copy of written communication by DirecTV to corroborate the allegation, Fink declined by email, calling it “private communication.”
“Just know that their offers (and follow-up offers when we’ve made suggestions and/or countered) have not wavered — they are unwilling to continue to pay KFVE for its programming service. Period,” he added.
Fink said subscribers’ alternatives include Spectrum cable, Dish Satellite TV, Hawaiian Telcom television or a digital over-the-air antenna that would allow those who live in or near Hilo to watch KFVE for free.
“I would encourage people, after calling DirecTV and getting no response, or no interest, because they really don’t care about local programming or local consumers, I would suggest they seriously consider switching services at this time,” he said.
According to Fink, KFVE is “very sorry about this” but added the dispute “has been going on for five months.”
“Specifically, for the Merrie Monarch Festival, the good news is — other than going over to your friend’s house, your relative’s house or a nearby bar — is the entire event is going to be streamed live on K5thehometeam.com. … So people can watch it on their digital device, whether it’s an iPad, their mobile phone, a desktop, they can watch it in true (high definition),” he said.
Critchlow said her home’s remote location is not served by cable and her internet is “sometimes sketchy and at all times, not high speed.”
“Somehow, trying to watch the performers on the computer leaves much to be desired and the tinny speakers will not do justice to the music. Also, one of the things they recommend is to get some sort of antenna or to watch it online, and that doesn’t cut it here,” she said.
Told about Fink’s explanation that DirecTV isn’t willing to pay KFVE to carry its signal, Critchlow replied, “You know, that’s unfair, but there are a lot of things in life that are unfair.”
“I want K5 and the Merrie Monarch to know how upset I am,” she continued. “And I think a lot of people don’t know what’s happening, and they’re going to turn on their TV (tonight) at 6 p.m. when the royal court walks in and it’s not going to be there. And they’re going to be very upset.
“K5 bills itself as ‘The Home Team.’ This is certainly not the home team if you’re not going to carry Merrie Monarch coverage throughout the state of Hawaii for people who have DirecTV. And I don’t know how many households have it, but I would suspect there are quite a few.”
Fink said DirecTV has an estimated just less than 25,000 homes in Hawaii, about 5 percent of the state’s 420,000-plus TV households.
“We believe the DirecTV penetration is a bit higher on the Big Island because years ago, DirecTV offered an exclusive NFL package that was attractive to people,” he said. “And the Big Island, because of its mountainous terrain and some of the homes that are in rural areas, cable just couldn’t penetrate as far as it did elsewhere. Satellite was an alternative that more people chose to take. And satellite penetration in Hawaii is the lowest in America.
“All we’re asking is to keep in line with what we were doing with them over the past, and they are not willing to negotiate at all.”
“This is not merely a Hawaii issue,” Fink added. “… It’s going on with other smaller stations. It’s going on with other providers. They are a huge conglomerate. They have no real interest or care about local communities, which is very unfortunate.”
The Tribune-Herald reached out to AT&T, DirecTV’s parent company, which acknowledged receipt of the newspaper’s communication but didn’t respond to its request for information by press time Wednesday.
Email John Burnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
The on-air schedule is as follows:
• 6 p.m.-pau today: Miss Aloha Hula
• 6 p.m.-pau Friday: Group Hula Kahiko (ancient hula)
• 6 p.m.-pau Saturday: Group Hula ‘Auana (modern hula)
All three competition nights will be re-aired in their entirety on KFVE starting at 11 a.m. the following day.