Four Massachusetts legislators have called on Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Hearst President Jordan Wertlieb to negotiate in good faith and resolve their carriage dispute so that ABC affiliate WCVB Boston stays on Comcast’s system serving Bristol County, Mass., residents.
Retransmission consent battles have become as much of a year-end tradition as eggnog and holly, and 2020 is no different, with at least two disputes brewing and certainly more to come. Tegna and Nexstar kicked off this year’s station negotiation season with blackouts.
Nexstar Media Group TV stations in 120 markets and 42 states as well as WGN America nationwide have gone dark on Dish Network platforms after days of negotiations between the companies failed to yield a deal. In all, 164 stations are offline.
Approximately 60 Tegna television stations were dropped after carriage negotiations failed to reach a new contract Tuesday evening. The old contract between the station group and the satellite and cable provider expired last month and was extended until 7 p.m. ET Tuesday.
The group broadcaster grants a retrans extension to Dec. 1 as talks continue.
The ongoing retransmission consent battle between Dish Network and Nexstar Media Group continued Friday, with the station group claiming that Dish has declined reasonable offers to settle the dispute.
Dish Network and Nexstar Media Group are warning subscribers and viewers of a potential blackout. As with past contract disputes, the companies are blaming the other. In a Thanksgiving news release, Dish said Nexstar is threatening the “largest local station blackout in TV history” that could “black out” customers’ access to “164 local channels in 120 markets across 42 states and the District of Columbia.” The contract between Dish and Nexstar expires Dec. 2, according to Gary Weitman, Nexstar EVP and chief communications officer, who said: “We felt it was important to start advising our viewers who are Dish subscribers of the potential for an interruption in service, since Dish has a history of repeatedly forcing stations off of their system.”
The FCC has voted to speed up the program access, program carriage and retransmission consent complaint resolution process. That came at its virtual November public meeting Wednesday (Nov. 18). The vote was unanimous.
The rise in retransmission fees has more than compensated for the COVID-19 hit on TV station revenue, at least in the early months of the pandemic. That is according to a new Pew Research Center analysis. The report also found that ad revenue for network news–ABC, CBS, and NBC–were actually up in 2Q 2020, while cable news revenue held steady, though only thanks to Fox, whose large increases covered declines at CNN and MSNBC.
The broadcasters involved in the FCC’s first forfeiture order over failure to negotiate retransmission consent in good faith aren’t giving up the fight. The commission voted last month to deny an appeal of the Media Bureau’s determination that a number of station groups failed to negotiate retrans consent in good faith with AT&T, proposing a forfeiture of $512,000 against each station. While the broadcasters argue the FCC should vacate the decision and dismiss the proceeding, at the very least, they want the commission to reduce the amount of proposed forfeitures to $25,000 per station. That would take the proposed penalty from more than $9 million for the 18 stations involved down to a collective $450,000.
Broadcasters would welcome reformation of the outdated newspaper-TV crossownership rule, but the Supreme Court’s decision to hear an appeal of the Third Circuit decision doesn’t solve all the industry’s COVID-induced woes. The FCC still needs to eliminate the Top 4 rule and online video distributors need to be classified as MVPDs.
Dish, which is already involved in seven separate carriage disputes, could lose 18 more stations in 10 markets this week due to yet another fee fight.
One rarely hears about a station group deciding not to pursue lucrative retransmission consent fees but when E.W. Scripps agreed to acquire Ion Media for $2.65 billion, it said the Ion stations would stick to must-carry. Analysts initially said they were surprised by the unusual strategy and asked about it during a conference call in which Scripps executives went over details of the transaction.
Oct. 1 is the FCC’s deadline for TV stations to (1) upload to their online Public Inspection Files their must-carry/retransmission consent carriage election statements for the three-year cycle covering Jan. 1, 2021 to Dec. 31, 2023, and (2) notify MVPDs of any changes to their election status.
The FCC has voted to deny an appeal of its decision that eight station groups failed to negotiate retransmission consent in good faith and has further decided to propose fining each of the 18 stations at issue over $500,000 apiece. It is the first time the FCC has ever issued a forfeiture order for a failure to negotiate retransmission consent in good faith, as its rules require.
Leonard Asper, president & CEO of Anthem Sports & Entertainment, has sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai taking aim at the retransmission consent regime, prompted by the retrans disputes between Dish and Scripps (it was settled last week) and Dish and Cox Media Group (Apollo).
E.W. Scripps released this statement Sunday: “Scripps has reached an agreement with Dish, and all Scripps stations are back on the air for Dish subscribers. We apologize for the disruption in service our viewers experienced and thank them for their loyalty and patience through this period.”
Scripps says Dish is not being honest in their carriage dispute, and further alleges the satcaster is not motivated to settle because it’s making a profit from the blackout. Dish has been without Scripps’ 60 local network affiliates in 42 markets since July 25 when the two companies could not agree on a new carriage pact. The satellite service claims that Scripps is asking for excessive fees to carry its signals, a 250% increase over the previous rate. But in a statement released Monday, Scripps says Dish is not agreeing to a new deal because it does not have to pay the broadcaster during the blackout.
Cable operators are telling the FCC that retrans regulations should apply to carriage negotiations that include ancillary “broadcast internet” services. That came in comments by NCTA-The Internet & Television Association on the FCC’s inquiry into what, if any, rules need to be changed to accommodate broadcaster’s potential new multichannel services using the ATSC 3.0 transmission standard.
Circle City Broadcasting, owner of WISH and WNDY Indianapolis, has filed suit against AT&T, claiming “intentional misconduct” by the cable provider over retrans rates.
Dish subscribers have been blacked out from watching Cox Media Group stations in 10 markets due to a retransmission consent dispute. The stations had been enjoined from interfering with Dish’s ability to retransmit the signals under an agreement reached before Apollo Global Management last year, according to Dish. The case moved from state court in Illinois to federal court, which dissolved the restraining order Wednesday.
“Broadcast television has seen a bit of a renaissance with COVID-19…. Local news ratings have actually been up 20%-40% depending on the market. We haven’t seen those kinds of ratings gains in years,” Wells Fargo Securities media financial analyst Davis Hebert said at a virtual Media Institute event Tuesday. “That has really kept the retrans outlook intact. That piece of the revenue stream should be quite visible for the most part.”
Local broadcasters could use some regulatory help from the FCC by declaring that vMVPDs or “skinny bundles” must be treated like regular MVPDs and thus subject to retransmission consent obligations. Doing so would put the affiliates in a much stronger position to hang on to vMVPD fees than they are now.
Rules giving qualified MVPD buying groups the same good faith bargaining protections enjoyed by operators will go into effect on July 20, according to the FCC.
Pay TV video-subscriber losses, fueled in part by the economic uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, reached a record high in the first quarter and are expected to get bigger, leaving exposed two of the largest revenue segments for programmers —
retransmission consent and affiliate fees.
DirecTV could lose two CBS, one NBC, two ABC and two CW affiliates next week due to a retans fee fight with their owner, Lilly Broadcasting.
An unprecedented first quarter saw local TV’s ad sales go off a cliff with some broadcasters declining to give guidance for what’s ahead, but a bright spot was the double- and triple-digit ratings gains for local newscasts.
TV station group Howard Stirk Holdings (HSH) has agreed to pay $100,000 and adopt a compliance regime to settle an FCC charge that it had breached its duty to negotiate retransmission consent agreements in good faith. HSH admitted to the good faith violation as part of the settlement. The FCC’s Media Bureau chief, Michelle Carey, said it would be in the public interest to adopt the consent decree and settle the matter.
Cox Media Group said it reached a deal that will return its Seattle CBS affiliate, KIRO, to subscribers of Ziply Fiber after a two-year outage. The agreement is effective May 1 at 12:01 a.m. PT
The American Television Alliance told the FCC that the problems with a competitive communications marketplace are retrans blackouts, retrans fees and broadcast consolidation in spite of FCC rules that are supposed to limit it, consolidation that drives retrans fees higher and has driven some smaller MVPDs have been pushed out of that marketplace.
Fox and Comcast Wednesday announced a long-term renewal of their distribution agreement for Fox’s full portfolio of channels, including retransmission consent for the Fox Television Stations to Xfinity customers.
NAB President Gordon Smith said broadcasters don’t want to see any retransmission consent service disruptions during the coronavirus pandemic. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has called for a retransmission consent quiet period to avoid TV station signals going off MVPDs.
Cox said the move gives viewers access to important public health information during the COVID-19 crisis.
Notifications about cable carriage have now gone electronic — and contact people at stations and MVPDs for notices about carriage issues are now to be provided in the FCC-hosted online public inspection file and in the Cable Operations and Licensing System (COALS). Cable operators are required to upload the same information to COALS. This contact information must be uploaded no later than July 31 and must be kept up-to-date thereafter.
Broadcasters have been successful in negotiating rate increases with MVPDs and virtual MVPDs for their “must-have” programming, so retrans continues to grow even as cord-cutting reduces subscriber numbers. And as they enjoyed the retrans boosts evening out some of the odd- and even-year political impact, broadcasters are embracing the prospect of record-breaking political hauls this year.
Today’s consumer does not have an unlimited financial appetite for new streaming services. Every time a new OTT service is selected, the consumer will feel pressure to drop something else. As competition increases, one must ask what all this means to retransmission consent.
The spats between TV distributors and networks that grew out of the cable and satellite era are beginning to spill over into the streaming world. Consumers that cut the cord to avoid paying for expensive TV packages are going to be susceptible to some of the same problems, like programming blackouts, that they had with traditional television.
When Dish Network lost 18 Apollo Global-owned Cox Media Group stations on Jan 18 (formerly Northwest Broadcasting stations), it managed to keep 13 Cox Media Group stations from going dark on its lineup thanks to a temporary restraining order issued by Illinois state court. But in the latest turn of events, Cox is suing Dish for copyright infringement for the continued carriage of those stations, which include Atlanta’s WSB and Orlando’s WFOX.