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    DirecTV customers may miss the Super Bowl

    As media giants spar over fees, fans held hostage

    Will 200,000 DirecTV subscribers have to leave their homes to watch the Patriots play in the Super Bowl?

    That’s up to Sunbeam Television Corp., the Miami-based owner of Boston’s WHDH-TV (Channel 7) and WLVI-TV (Channel 56).

    The company has blacked out its stations on satellite provider DirecTV in a dispute over fees, but could declare a truce and temporarily restore service if both parties fail to come to terms before the Feb. 5 Super Bowl game between the New England Patriots and New York Giants.


    “We are still trying to negotiate a contract,’’ said Chris Wayland, general manager of WHDH and WLVI. “We hope we have an agreement before the Super Bowl.’’

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    What Sunbeam officials won’t say is whether they will allow viewers to see the big game on DirecTV, as they did in Miami for a playoff match. The company lifted a blackout at its Miami Fox affiliate station for last Sunday’s NFC championship game, a special edition of “American Idol,’’ and that evening’s local newscast and sports show. Then the station went dark again for about 270,000 DirecTV subscribers in South Florida.

    Thomas Tyrer, a DirecTV spokesman, said Sunbeam should let the satellite provider’s customers in Greater Boston watch the Super Bowl on WHDH, Boston’s NBC affiliate, even without an agreement.

    “We hope that they would return the Super Bowl to Patriots fans the exact same way they did the NFC championship with Fox this weekend,’’ said Tyrer. “No station has ever blacked out the Super Bowl in a retransmission consent dispute. We would be very surprised to see Sunbeam set that precedent.’’

    In Boston and Miami, Sunbeam is seeking an increase in “retransmission consent fees,’’ which cable and satellite companies pay to the TV stations they carry. For broadcast stations, those fees can range from 45 cents to $1 per subscriber per month, according to broadcast analysts and local industry officials.


    Frustrated viewers and subscribers have flooded both companies with complaints about the loss of their programming, and have caught the attention of both US senators from Massachusetts.

    On Thursday, Senator John Kerry sent Julius Genachowski, Federal Communications Commission chairman, a letter requesting he ask DirecTV and Sunbeam “to reach terms under which the signal will be restored.’’

    Senator Scott Brown sent a letter to DirecTV and Sunbeam officials on Friday, asking them to come to a resolution before the Super Bowl.

    “It is outrageous that subscribers would pay hundreds of dollars a year for service and not get to watch the Super Bowl, the biggest television event of the year,’’ Brown wrote.

    Members of the Massachusetts House delegation signed similar letters to both companies and to the FCC.


    In the meantime, DirecTV customers in Greater Boston are missing out. Patrick Wendell, a marketing professional in Yarmouth, has turned to the Internet to catch the NBC sitcom “30 Rock,’’ but says Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon’s late-night shows are better watched live than streamed on a computer when they become available online. And now he’s worried about the Super Bowl.

    “Now that our Pats will be in it, I cannot imagine not being able to watch,’’ said Wendell, who is considering switching to Comcast Corp.’s cable service if the dispute isn’t solved soon.

    The Super Bowl is a big event at The Four’s bar and restaurant in Boston, which is trying to figure out how to get the game on TV if the blackout continues.

    One option: making a switch from DirecTV to Comcast. The business has about 44 TV sets tuned into DirecTV for ESPN, as well as WHDH.

    “With the Patriots playing, it was a full house,’’ said Jim Taggart, manager. “If there’s no game, we will be sitting here in a ghost town.’’

    Johnny Diaz can be reached at