Imported Signals in Retrans Fight Raise Regulatory Questions

Time Warner-Hearst standoff escalates over out-of-market programming

The retransmission standoff between Hearst Television and Time Warner Cable is about to become a three-way fight over the out-of-market TV stations TWC is importing to replace some of the Hearst stations it was forced to black out. 

Instead of letting all of its subscribers go without network affiliate programming, TWC picked up the signals from three TV stations owned by Nexstar Broadcasting Group. As a result, half of TWC subscribers that might have been impacted by the impasse have access to network programming, albeit from a station outside the viewing market.

But federal regulations require cable systems to carry only the local stations for the market the cable system serves, and Nexstar is refusing to play the patsy.

"We believe Time Warner on an unauthorized basis in an illegal manner misappropriated our signals from three markets. Nexstar intends to pursue all legal and regulatory remedies to cause Time Warner to cease and desist misappropriating signals," a Nexstar spokesperson said in a statement.

However, Time Warner sees this as a legal loophole. "We are acting well within our rights, as we have in the past, in trying to help our subscribers through this," said a TWC spokesperson.

To replace WLKY, the Hearst CBS affiliate in Louisville, Ky., TWC picked up WROC, Nexstar's CBS affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. Nexstar's NBC affiliate in Terre Haute, Ind., replaced Hearst's WLWT in Cincinnati. WBRE, Nexstar's NBC affiliate in Wilkes Barre, Pa., is replacing Hearst stations in four markets, including Orlando, Fla.

It isn't the first time TWC has imported distance signals in a retransmission fight. In 2010, TWC picked up out-of-market signals from Nexstar when it couldn't come to an agreement with Smith Media in two upstate New York markets.

Hearst Television declined comment.


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