On Tuesday evening, 63 television stations in 51 markets owned by TEGNA were effectively blocked from DirecTv customers, as talks regarding a new retransmission consent agreement between the two companies failed to reach a fresh deal before the prior accord expired.
Twenty-four hours later, an even bigger “blackout” transpired, and it involves the nation’s No. 1 broadcast TV station owner.
To little surprise, Nexstar Media Group is blaming DBS provider Dish for the lack of a new deal — and Dish and pro-MVPD lobbying group ATVA are blaming the company led by its founder, Perry Sook.
In total, 164 Nexstar television stations and, importantly, cable network WGN America were dropped Wednesday evening by Dish, after the companies failed to reach a new distribution agreement.
In a lengthy statement, Nexstar said it “remains hopeful that a resolution can be reached quickly to return to viewers their favorite network programming, in-depth local news, and other content relevant to their communities … for which DISH is charging its subscribers.”
It is Nexstar’s belief that Dish “continues to propose rates that are less than fair market value for the broadcast network and local market programming content carried by Nexstar’s television stations.”
The TV station owner adds that Dish “also continues to exclude WGN America from its proposals.”
Indeed, Dish made it clear that WGN America’s “flagging ratings” over the last several years made it less worthy of being included in a blanket retrans deal involving local over-the-air stations. However, much of that performance is tied to Tribune Broadcasting ownership. Since Nexstar purchased WGN America, it has invested heavily in a prime-time, three-hour news block, NewsNation, that launched in September as the centerpiece of a network in transition.
How long the stalemate lasts is now the biggest question. It could be weeks, or months, based on the language offered by both sides.
“Since Dish proposals are not at all in line with the reality of current market rates, Nexstar is left with no choice but to reject any extension of the current agreement,” Nexstar said.
Negotiations began “in good faith” in July, Nexstar said of its discussions with Dish. The goal: to reach a mutually agreeable multi-year contract with Dish, offering it “the same fair market rates it offered to other large distribution partners with whom it completed successful negotiations in 2019 and 2020.”
Nexstar believes it “routinely reaches amicable retransmission and carriage agreements with its cable, satellite and telco partners and in the month of October alone, successfully completed agreements with nearly 200 distribution partners.”
Meanwhile, Nexstar pointed out that “in 2020 alone, Dish has dropped network or
local community programming offered by The E.W. Scripps Company, Apollo Global Management’s Cox Media Group, Mission Broadcasting, NFL Network, and 21 regional sports networks (RSNs) now owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, acquired from FOX.
Nexstar’s roster of TV stations includes storied properties in the nation’s biggest markets, obtained from its merger with Tribune — KTLA-5 in Los Angeles, WGN-9 in Chicago, and KDAF-33 in Dallas. Other stations include a resurgent local news-heavy KRON-4 in San Francisco, CBS affiliate KLAS-8 in Las Vegas, NBC affiliate WFLA-8 in Tampa, and two Portland, Ore., stations — CBS affiliate KOIN-6 and The CW Network affiliated KRCW-TV.
Dish, in its own statement released just before 7pm Eastern Wednesday, claims Nexstar “forced” the “blackout” of its stations on the DBS provider by “rejecting Dish’s calls for a contract extension and taking away local programming from nearly 5.4 million DISH subscribers.”
“We made a fair offer to keep Nexstar stations available to our customers, but Nexstar rejected it,” said Brian Neylon, Group President of Dish TV. He added that Dish on Wednesday offered to extend the current contract — once at 1:53pm Eastern and again at 5:11pm Eastern. “Nexstar never responded,” Neylon said. “We don’t understand why Nexstar insists on prioritizing greed above American viewers, many of whom rely on local programming for their news and entertainment, especially during this global pandemic.”
Further, Dish assailed Nexstar for its size, and ability to grow, as a detriment to retrans negotiations.
“Now that Nexstar is the biggest in the industry, it is strong-arming companies like Dish to pay outrageous rates and force unprecedented increases onto customers,” Dish said. “In its latest move, the broadcaster has blacked out its stations from Dish customers to gain negotiation leverage in an effort to line its wallet with viewers’ hard-earned money — a tactic it used last year against DirecTV and AT&T U-verse.”
The American Television Alliance, which supports MVPDs and both DirecTV and Dish on Capitol Hill, chimed in on Dish’s behalf.
“This record-breaking blackout is not only exploitative, but also an endangerment to the health and safety of countless Americans who rely on their local news for up-to-date coronavirus information,” said ATVA spokesperson Jessica Kendust. “We thought the ongoing global pandemic may have curbed big broadcast from leveraging consumer access during retrans negotiations. Unfortunately, two separate major blackouts this week alone have proven us wrong.”
Consumers and viewers affected by Dish Network’s actions can contact Dish Network by phone at 800-333-3474 or 303-723-1000. RBR+TVBR asks that communication from Dish customers inconvenienced by this stalemate not be sent to our editorial staff, as we do not have any involvement in the retransmission consent impasse between any TV station and a program services provider.