How AT&T U-verse and DirecTV customers can watch CBS shows during contract fight

Out with the dish, in with antennas?

It's been more than two years since Hilton Head Island resident Steve Baer and his wife Sandy decided to stop paying for television and revert to receiving their channels the old fashion way - over the air.
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It's been more than two years since Hilton Head Island resident Steve Baer and his wife Sandy decided to stop paying for television and revert to receiving their channels the old fashion way - over the air.

We’re in the seventh week of the AT&T versus Nexstar dispute that has kept local CBS affiliate WNCN (CBS 17) dark for local customers, and there’s no indication from either side that a resolution is in sight.

Or a deal could come as soon as we publish this story. We just don’t know.

But it’s time — past time, to be honest — to go over some CBS alternatives.

We’ve come up with three main solutions (and none of them are perfect).

1. Buy an antenna

This seems like the best option. You shell out $40 or so one time, hook up the antenna (it’s pretty easy) and you’ve got free local channels (the broadcast networks plus enough extra channels to keep you knee-deep in “Quincy” episodes for life).

(Note: We have heard from a DirecTV customer who told us that DirecTV sent him an antenna free of charge, so definitely try to score one of those!)

The problem is that depending on where you live, you may not get everything you need.

If you live in a remote area or an area with a lot of trees, you may need a more expensive antenna that mounts in your attic or on your roof.

But even for those who don’t live outside the city, there can be reception issues.

For example, for years we’ve heard complaints from antenna users who can’t get WTVD or UNC-TV, no matter what they do.

This month when we suggested AT&T and DirecTV customers get an antenna to pick up CBS, we heard from a customer who tried three different antennas and all three antennas picked up all the local stations — except for CBS 17. We reached out to an engineer at CBS 17, who suggested moving the antenna away from other electronics. Another possible “fix” when unable to pick up channels is to scan for channels, re-scan and scan again.

So while we still think this is your best first option, keep in mind that it may not be the perfect solution for everyone.

2. Subscribe to CBS All Access

We’ve always just thought of this CBS streaming service as the way to see original series “Star Trek Discovery” and “The Good Fight” and old episodes of previously aired CBS and CW shows.

Turns out there’s a little tab on the home screen that takes you straight to your live local station.

With this option you can flip right over to CBS 17 to watch the news or any local CBS programming live.

CBS All Access costs $5.99 per month (or $9.99 for a commercial-free version). New customers get a one-week free trial. (If you’re going this route, we suggest calling AT&T or DirecTV and asking for a discount off your monthly bill. You may or may not get it, but it’s worth a shot.)

You can watch CBS All Access online — on a computer, phone or tablet — or through a streaming device, which will play it on your TV. It will stream through pretty much all systems: Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, PS4 and XBox 1.

To sign up or watch online, go to cbs.com/all-access.

To watch it on your phone or tablet (Apple, Android, Windows 10), you’ll need to install the CBS All Access app. It doesn’t look like it’s available for Kindle.

To watch on your TV, you’ll need to access your streaming device (Roku, Apple TV, Smart TV, etc.) and add the CBS All Access channel. The screen will prompt you on how to sign in with your account info.

3. Switch providers

If all else fails, you can always switch providers.

Is there any guarantee another provider won’t have a dispute in the future? Nope, none at all.

Have any of these recent retransmission fee fights with other carriers gone on as long as the ones with AT&T? That’s another no. (Remember that AT&T’s fight with Capitol Broadcasting in 2017 lasted nearly three months, cutting off both NBC and Fox locally for U-verse and DirecTV customers well into college football season and the new fall TV season.)

It’s also worth noting that as of Monday, Aug. 19, AT&T U-verse still has not announced a deal to carry the new ACC Network, which launches Thursday, Aug. 22. There is a deal with DirecTV, however.

We aren’t advocating one way or the other. Just putting it out there.

Bonus: One other thing DirecTV users can try

Several Triangle readers have told us they are able to find and receive the CBS affiliate WFMY out of Greensboro. Most of these reports come from the western part of the Triangle, but we’ve also heard from someone in Cary. You won’t get CBS 17 News, and for some reason, “CBS This Morning” airs from 8-10 a.m. instead of 7-9 a.m. on WFMY, but it’s better than nothing.

It’s definitely worth checking out.

Other ideas we missed?

If you have found other good (legal) solutions for getting your CBS shows during the outage, let us know by emailing bcain@newsobserver.com.

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Brooke Cain is a North Carolina native who has worked at The News & Observer for more than 20 years. She writes about TV and local media for the Happiness is a Warm TV blog, and answers CuriousNC questions for readers.