NATPE 2016

Turbulent Times For Station Group Execs

NATPE’s only broadcast TV panel featured (l-r after moderator Paige Albiniak of B&C): Jack Abernethy of  Fox Television Stations on the state of network-affiliate relations, Nexstar’s Perry Sook on why station groups shouldn’t be in national syndication; and Tribune’s Larry Wert on the on-going feud between CW and Tribune in which the network is demanding higher reverse comp fees from Tribune.

Media General’s forays into original program production and syndication might be in jeopardy if Nexstar Broadcasting Group succeeds in its attempt to merge with MG.

That’s because Nexstar Chairman Perry Sook apparently takes a dim view of station groups getting into the national syndication business — an opinion he made crystal clear during a panel discussion Tuesday at NATPE 2016 in Miami.

“With all due respect to my station brethren that are trying to be syndicators, we feel that we do local really well and we should leave national to those who do national really well,” Sook said. “I feel that’s like a catcher playing shortstop.”

Sook, who is also Nexstar’s president and CEO, made his remarks at a session titled “Top TV Station Groups: How to Stay Afloat in Turbulent Times.” The other panelists were Jack Abernethy, CEO of Fox Television Stations, and Larry Wert, president of Tribune Broadcasting.

Sook’s comments would seem to fly in the face of Media General’s production and syndication efforts. At the moment, Media General’s biggest show is Hollywood Today Live, a daily one-hour strip of entertainment news and feature stories that is cleared on 44 Media General and Fox-owned stations representing 50% coverage of the U.S. Media General produces the show through a production company it owns, BiteSize TV.

In fact, Media General execs, led by the company’s head of programming, Tony Optican, are here at NATPE selling the show.


When Sook was asked by moderator Paige Albiniak of Broadcasting & Cable to give an update on the status of the Nexstar-Media General merger, he demurred, saying only that the final decision on the deal would be up to the shareholders.

“If you talk to the public shareholders, we have a pretty good sense of where they come down on which proposal is superior [Nexstar’s or a competing bid from Meredith Broadcasting], so if it gets to a vote, then we’ll know for sure,” he said. He said he didn’t know if it will come to a vote. And he gave no timetable for completing the deal.  

Wert commented on the on-going feud between CW and Tribune in which the network is demanding higher reverse comp fees from Tribune.

He dismissed talk that the CW partners CBS and Warner Bros. might bypass Tribune by streaming the CW on an OTT channel if they cannot come to any agreement with the station group.

“I don’t think you have the economics to support that,” he said. “Maybe that is somebody’s posturing.”

But he also said he was optimistic the parties would reach an agreement and continue their partnership. “Our company helped launch that network so we have a vested interest in it and I think they do a great job.”

Tribune is the CW’s outlet in six of the top 10 markets, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Prompted by Albiniak, Sook and Abernethy commented on the state of network-affiliate relations that have been strained by the networks’ increasing demands for reverse comp payments.

Sook cited two recent flare ups: in Tri-Cities, Tenn.-Va., where ABC dropped its longtime affiliate to partner with the market’s Media General outlet, and in Raleigh, N.C., where CBS and Capitol Broadcasting’s WRAL decided to part ways.

He cautioned against making too much of the two cases. The breakups will be “few and far between. They happen for very specific reasons. I don’t think there is any overarching trend.”

Speaking to a reporter afterward, Sook said he would not allow one of his stations to be used by a network as leverage against another.

Abernethy was philosophical. “There is a tremendous strain on all these relationships. It’s a very tough environment no matter where you sit. You have to work on the relationship so you can deal and get something done and not destroy either side. There is no room for sentiment in that. It’s going to continue on all levels and it just behooves us to be smart about it — and honest.”

The fact that this particular session was the only one devoted to broadcast television on the entire NATPE schedule this year was not lost on Abernethy, who commented: “I want to thank [NATPE President and CEO] Rod Perth for having one 30-minute session on broadcasting in the whole conference. We’re like the Sunshine Boys.”

Read all of TVNewsCheck‘s NATPE 2016 coverage here.

Comments (6)

Leave a Reply

Matthew Castonguay says:

January 19, 2016 at 3:14 pm

Was there no discussion/debate on the subject of whether or not TV groups should produce shows for syndication? Was Perry Sook the only one on the panel to venture an opinion?

Kathy Schlecht says:

January 19, 2016 at 3:49 pm

Sook said they do “local really well.”

Can he (or anyone) give an example. I’m curious where they do local really well.

    jacquie franciulli says:

    January 19, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    Great question. How about the first book after a station has been acquired by NXST?

    Kristine Melser says:

    January 20, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    Great question indeed.

matt fess says:

January 19, 2016 at 3:50 pm

I agree with Perry. There is some great barter programming that may only do 1’s, but the cost gets absorbed by them. Big groups trying to re-invent the wheel with original programming will only be costly and take the eye off the ball of doing great news. Take the barter programs and run them.

    Kathy Schlecht says:

    January 20, 2016 at 12:34 am

    The local news producing stations are not the teams developing original programming. Sook is making excuses for why his company is not being innovative or recognizing that the industry is changing. He’s also deflecting why he doesn’t have any ideas for new (or additional) sources of revenue.