Nexstar To FCC: Stop TWC Signal Switch

The broadcaster wants the commission to forbid Time Warner Cable from using its stations as substitute network programming in the cable operator's retransmission consent battle with Smith Media.

Nexstar Broadcasting has risen to the aid of Smith Media in its ongoing retransmission consent dispute with Time Warner Cable in two upstate New York markets, asking the FCC to enjoin TWC from importing Nexstar signals into the two markets as substitutes for local Smith Media ones.

Denied retransmission consent by Smith for its affiliates in Utica, N.Y., and Burlington, Vt.-Plattsburgh, N.Y., Time Warner Cable on Dec. 16 began importing affiliates of the same networks from other markets.

In Utica, Time Warner replaced Smith’s NBC affiliate WKTV with Nexstar’s WBRE Wilkes Barre-Scranton, Pa.

Meanwhile, in Burlington-Plattsburgh, it replaced ABC affiliate WVNY with Nexstar-managed WUTR. Smith operates WVNY through a shared services agreement. Also in the market, it replaced Fox affiliate WFFF with WNYF-CA Watertown, N.Y., which is owned by Amy Tuchler, of Northbrook, Ill.

TWC made the moves after failing to strike a retrans agreement with Smith, which has been demanding fees as part of the bargain.

In support of its call for an injunction, Nexstar charged that TWC had violated FCC rules.


“Time Warner’s use of WBRE and WUTR in its game of retransmission consent brinkmanship with Smith … without providing 30 days’ notice of any of the required parties is a flagrant violation of the Communications Act and the commission’s rules, and a disservice to its Utica and Plattsburgh subscribers, who are without a local news source in this dangerous weather time of year,” the petition says.

Because this is not the first time TWC has ignored the notification rules, the petition suggests, the FCC ought to allow Smith Media to immediately assert network non-duplication protection rights, which bar cable operators from importing stations affiliated with the same network as a local station. However, the rules allow the operator to continue importing signals for 60 days after notification.

“By allowing Smith … immediate nonduplication protection rights, Time Warner will have no incentive to import market-irrelevant networks affiliates such as WBRE and WUTR and every incentive to reach resolution to it retransmission consent dispute …, thereby restoring local news and other local programming to its Utica and Plattsburgh subscribers.”

Nexstar’s petition also says that Nexstar has advised TWC that the importation of its signals without proper notification is a breach of its own retrans agreement with the cable operator.

Comments (15)

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Warren Harmon says:

December 29, 2010 at 4:07 pm

And what? Does anyone expect that TWC will behave and “Play by the Rules”? This is exactly why the NBCU deal should not be allowed.

Kimberly Gari-Luff says:

December 29, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Are there any old-timers who remember when cable carriage was a gift to the broadcast stations — extending their reach and expanding their audience?

    Andrea Rader says:

    December 29, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    I also remember when the Big 3 networks were the only game in town, and Monday Night Football was available OTA. Well, ESPN gets $4.50 per month per subscriber, Monday Night Football is on ESPN instead of ABC, and the old days aren’t coming back.

Sandhi Kozsuch says:

December 29, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Maybe Time Warner and all the other cable companies need to rethink why they are paying Cable Channels Like Hallmark, Lifetime and the History Channel ridiculous (per subscriber fees) to get a .1 rating and then telling broadcasters to get screwed because they”re delivering a 5 rating.

bart meyers says:

December 29, 2010 at 9:24 pm

If the viewing public, especially cable subscribers, had any idea what the cable companies pay to low-watched channels like MTV, and others mentioned in the post above, they would immediately understand and be sympathetic to the broadcast companies cause for their fair share of retrans money. Maybe the NAB should mount a campaign to help broadcasters better inform the situation to TV viewers. I totally support broadcasters’ right to make the cable companies pay to air their signal. When Nexstar pulled their TV stations signal in several markets, I had the chance to talk to regular folks in one market affected about the situation, and once they understood what was happening, they would have gladly payed an extra few dimes for the right to watch local news and network programming.
Paul Greeley
[email protected]

Sherry Schunemann says:

December 30, 2010 at 9:33 am

This is a neat way to force the FCC to finally get involved in these retransmission consent disputes, instead of continually shirking its public interest and public safety responsibilities. The FCC will undoubtedly side with Nexstar, and TWC will get a court to overturn the FCC on the grounds that subscribers need access to TV stations for public safety and public interest reasons.

Andrea Rader says:

December 30, 2010 at 11:36 am

In Burlington there are competing stations that are eminently capable of fulfilling the market’s public safety and public interest needs. As for Utica, it is hardly Smith Media’s fault that other stations in the market shirk their own public safety and public interest obligations.

Vickie Doherty says:

December 30, 2010 at 12:59 pm

To JMinSanDiego:

Actually, San Diego and other mountainous areas were the only places where cable initially was a benefit for broadcasters. That’s why most large cable companies started in such areas: Denver, central Pennsylvania, etc. In San Diego the TV transmitters on San Miguel were blocked on from the western slopes of La Jolla and vice versa the transmitters on Soledad were blocked by hills and mountains in the eastern part of the county.

Generally, the cable industry was built on the notion of “choice.” In addition to local channels subscribers could get HBO, CNN, WTBS, WGN, The Weather Channel, ESPN and a few other nascent offerings. However, no one would have paid for cable if it didn’t also offer local channels because they were the most viewed and then defined the idea of “television.” However, Congress, in its wisdom, granted cable companies a “compulsory license” to offer local channels, without permission from those channels. That legislative scheme built the cable industry.

In most areas, TV stations had nearly 100% penetration with their over-the-air signals and did not have to compete with cable providers for local advertizing revenue.

So, billions of dollars later, it seems only fair that now cable pays for retransmission of broadcast channels, since they remain the most viewed. For all the fuss over the cost of cable and satellite fees they remain one of the better consumer deals: hundreds of channels of viewing for a relatively fair price. There is room for broadcasters to get paid more.

Ivea M. Augstums & Tim Paradis says:

December 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Don’t forget – the cable industry was in favor of retransmission consent/must carry legislation. BUT, that was before stations got wise and started demanding their fair share. Now the cable industry cries foul when they have to pay up. They can’t have it both ways.

Ed Miley says:

December 30, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Last I knew a broadcasters primary revenue stream was from advertising. I would not want to be an AE at one of these affected stations knowing that up to 70% of the audience would be gone overnight. If I was affiliated with an advertising agency I would be very concerned about this – odd how that angle has yet to be reported. The first time a channel was pulled from a cable lineup I remember how it was like a gift to the cable ad sales group because a good number of clients, who never thought of advertising on cable tried it … and are still on board.

tom gillespie says:

December 30, 2010 at 3:11 pm

To: SomeHistory
THANK YOU! It’s not often that posts are written by well informed readers. Suggestion to TVNewCheck – Write a timeline of facts surrounding the issue to inform your readers. We can’t leave the education up to NAB. Afterall it was NAB that produced the “digital transition” PSA that stated as part of the open, “…if you have cable or satellite you don’t have to do anything. But if you dont…” followed by 20 seconds that sounded like a complicated hassle. The NAB PSA should have stated, “The digital transition is here! And now viewers nationwide can receive up to 17 broadcast stations for FREE, all you have to do is…”

Dennis Davis says:

December 30, 2010 at 3:59 pm

It’s clear that the FCC is anxious to insert themselves into the retrans equation in some way. How about clarifying their “Play Fair” rules to include required transparency of the rates the cable companies pay for all of their services and the amounts the stations are asking? There is no foul there and no forced arbitration – just a better informed public. We are all guessing at the amounts the cablers pay ESPN and Lifetime. Likewise, we are ignorant of the $$$ being asked by the stations. This way, the marketplace can make a much more informed decision about what’s fair use of their subscription dollars.

E B says:

December 30, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Three words to solve this mess: A LA CARTE. I am sick of paying for channels I never watch. With broadband giving me everything I want, I am inches away from cutting back to lifeline, broadcast-only channels … there’s no OTA at my house, or I would get rid of that too. And maybe I will… I don’t weatch that much OTA either.

Kimberly Gari-Luff says:

December 31, 2010 at 6:42 pm

TO SomeHistory: Thanks. I suppose you’re right but my recollection of the earliest cable TV I saw in San Diego was a 25-channel system called “Mission Cable” that existed largely because it imported channels from Los Angeles. Once upon a time, cable penetration was reported to be higher in San Diego than any other market. I don’t know what year I saw that stat, so it’s tough to document.

Ed Miley says:

January 4, 2011 at 5:01 pm

All bias and opinions aside – here is a question I would like to see on a survey: Do you think your ad revenue would be any different if your station was NOT available to the public through an alternate form of signal delivery (Cable / Dish) in your market?