Nexstar Broadcasting’s WFFT-TV is the once and future home of Fox Television Network in Fort Wayne IN. A settlement with current rights-holder Granite Broadcasting will send the affiliation back from whence it came, diminishing the Granite-Malara cluster that included five national networks.
Nexstar had charged that Granite wrested Fox away from its station by going over the top in its effort to outbid it for the affiliation. It then placed the network on a side channel of its own WISE-TV, which already carried NBC and MNT programming. On top of that, Granite was in a long-running SSA/JSA arrangement with Malara Broadcasting which put it at the helm of WPTA-TV, which carried ABC and CW.
That’s three of the Big Four networks and five on six mainstream national networks in the control of two stations. The remaining network, CBS is on LIN’s WANE-TV. WFFT was left to operate as an independent.
In addition to depriving Nexstar of its affiliation and damaging its sales efforts, Nexstar also said Granite had lured away key sales personnel and the proprietary information they carried in their heads, forced investment in new programming and equipment, and reduced competition in the market to the detriment of advertisers.
The matter was accepted for litigation by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. That has been forestalled by the settlement, which will be dismissed with no costs borne by either side of the dispute.
Bill Ritchhart, Vice President and General Manager of WFFT LOCAL commented, “We are looking forward to the return of FOX’s programming to WFFT LOCAL where we are committed to providing the most relevant, compelling and informative content and community-focused programming to our viewers. Eighteen months ago we expanded that commitment to our viewers through increased news content, locally-produced programming and significant technical investments upgrading our broadcasts to transform WFFT LOCAL into Fort Wayne’s first fully functional HD platform. We are now proud to expand our commitment once again by bringing back FOX’s exceptional array of primetime, sports and event programming exclusively on WFFT LOCAL.”
The background on the case can be seen here.
An interested local observer commented on the agreement, saying, “Its negative impact on Granite is in the millions, with the ‘super amount’ they paid to lure away the affiliation initially, their rebranding, hiring of personnel, news sets, marketing, etc. Now, they must give it back. In essence, they’ve promoted Nexstar’s product for a year and a half.”
RBR-TVBR observation: There’s pushing the envelope, and then there’s shredding it. We have seen this sort of thing before. The FCC at the moment is not raising a stink about SSAs and JSAs, but it has brought them up on occasion as something that might bear closer scrutiny.
Taking the practice to the extreme invites that scrutiny, and the result could well be much more than a loss for the de facto consolidator in a given market, it could be a loss for the entire national broadcast television service.
Perhaps extreme use of SSA/JSA tactics would result in clear definitions as to how far such arrangements can go. But it could also lead to complete elimination of the practice. We would recommend careful consideration before entering into an agreement that is so obviously anti-competitive.