Spectrum, Northwest Nail Down A New Retrans Deal

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LOS ANGELES — Four months after 11 local broadcast TV stations were removed by law from Charter Spectrum lineups across the U.S. in the absence of a new retransmission fee agreement, the MVPD has restored the channels — and agreed to a new deal with Northwest Broadcasting.


In an announcement posted to the website of FOX affiliate WICZ-40 in Binghamton, N.Y., late Thursday (6/7), Northwest President/CEO Brian Brady confirmed that a new agreement had been reached with Charter.

Brady did not offer any comment on the contract dispute, which led Comcast to bring all Northwest-owned stations to black on Feb. 2.

A statement appearing on the website for KPVI-6 in Idaho Falls-Pocatello, Idaho, which is the NBC affiliate serving Jackson, Wyo., mirrors the WICZ statement: Full restoration is scheduled for today (6/8).

The other Northwest stations that Charter was forced to fade to black are comprised of:

  • CBS affiliate KSWT-13; Estrella TV, on KSWT-13.2; and NBC affiliate KYMA-11 in Yuma, Ariz.
  • CBS affiliate KJRW-17 (formerly KVIQ); DT multicast channels with the market’s affiliates for The CW and MyNetworkTV; and NBC affiliate KIEM-3 in Eureka-Arcata, Calif. This impacted only Del Norte County and the town of Crescent City, Calif., area, as Altice USA-owned Suddenlink is the main provider serving Humboldt County.
  • KFFX-11 in Yakima, Wash., the market’s FOX affiliate, and simulcast partner KCYU-LD 41 in Tri-Cities, Wash.
  • FOX affiliate KMVU-26 in Medford-Ashland, Ore.
  • KAYU-28 in Spokane, the market’s FOX affiliate.
  • FOX affiliate WSYT-68 in Syracuse.

No further details about the new agreement were made available.

Just hours after the stations were blocked from Spectrum viewers in early February, the finger-pointing began.

Charter created a microsite, http://www.northwestfairdeal.com/that slammed Northwest for “removing their programming from Spectrum to create hardship for our customers, while we are negotiating in good faith to reach a fair agreement.”

Charter further defended itself by noting that Northwest “is demanding a ridiculous increase in programming fees—over 75%.” Additionally, the MVPD giant is “demanding to be paid more than what we pay any other broadcast station for the same services.”

The cable operator then made the claim that it is on the side of its customers, in an attempt to win subscriber support for a swift resolution.

“The rising cost of programming is the single greatest factor in higher cable prices, and we are fighting hard to hold the line on programming rates imposed on us by groups like Northwest Broadcasting,” Charter said.

On Friday (6/8), the website was updated to read:

We have negotiated an agreement to restore Northwest Broadcasting, the owner of some local networks. Our negotiations are about one thing; reaching agreements that are fair to our customers. We are happy to be able to return these channels. Thank you for your patience.

Northwest does not own “some local networks,” but affiliates.

On Feb. 4, Brady offered his version of the facts. He said, “Charter/Spectrum refused to negotiate with our company, pulled our stations off their systems, turned on their corporate public relations machine, and began spreading lies about our company. You can choose to believe whoever or whatever you want, but take a moment to contemplate the source.”

Brady continued, “Spectrum states they want a ‘fair deal’ and they are fighting for you.  That’s interesting coming from a company that charges nearly $4 for a channel guide that every other provider on the planet includes in their package, and they recently raised their rates unannounced and their customers whom we’re speaking to repeatedly tell us how horrible their service is.”

The Northwest head also noted that Charter recently paid CEO Tom Rutledge “a $98,500,000 bonus (yes $98.5 million) to stay on the job until 2021, while last year their employees went on strike trying to get a raise.”

Charter Spectrum subscribers in areas near Idaho Falls, Idaho were greeted with this message while trying to view Super Bowl LII on KPVI-6. Viewers were directed to the NBCSports.com app. [Photo: Buckrail.com]

The Yuma, Ariz.-El Centro, Calif. market was heavily impacted. This led the City of El Centro to get involved some eight weeks into the impasse between Charter Spectrum and Northwest.

In a 16-page lawsuit filed April 4, Charter assailed the city government for its “unlawful interference” with the ongoing dispute between the owner of Spectrum cable TV and Northwest.

“The city is neither a party to nor a third party beneficiary of that retransmission agreement,” Charter’s legal counsel spell out in the lawsuit.

Brady responded to RBR+TVBR‘s request for comment by only noting that his company concluded a deal yesterday. “I can’t disclose the terms of the deal, however we are glad to see the signals returned to Spectrum’s subscribers,” he said.

A HISTORY OF BLACKOUTS

While Northwest’s Brady has been vocal in his defense, the company’s battles of late with MVPDs and DBS providers have been bruising. On Feb. 5, 2017Cable ONE ended its blackout of Northwest Broadcasting stations after a month of darkness. 

That resolution, which came Feb. 2, prevented Super Bowl LI, televised in 2017 on FOX, from being shut out of any Cable ONE markets.

The lack of a retransmission fee agreement between Cable ONE and Northwest resulted in an unprecedented situation in Grenada and Cleveland, Miss. — two small cities where all four broadcast networks were blacked out. That’s because Northwest Broadcasting owns and/or operates WABG (ABC), WABG-HD2 (FOX), WNBD (NBC), and WXVT (CBS), all stations serving the Greenville-Greenwood, Miss., DMA.

In January-February 2011 and again in September 2012, Northwest batted with DirecTV in several markets, resulting in a 2012 yanking of the company’s TV stations in Spokane, Tri-Cities, Binghamton and Medford-Ashland, as well as MyNetwork TV affiliates in Norfolk and in Fort Smith, Ark.

Meanwhile, Northwest is planning for the future by being a key supporter of the Next Gen broadcast TV standard known as ATSC 3.0. In June 2017, the company signed on as the first affiliate member of the consortium “that will promote spectrum aggregation, innovation and monetization and enhance their abilities to compete in the wireless data transmission sector.”

The consortium was created by Univision Local Media, Nexstar Media Group, and Sinclair Broadcast Group.