Just before July 4, DirecTV and AT&T U-verse subscribers lost the ability to watch Nexstar stations after the two media giants failed to agree on a carriage agreement extension.
Nexstar says the dispute is over an unconditional extension of the existing distribution agreement that is in play until August 2. The blackout affects 120 stations in 97 markets across the United States. DirecTV says an increase of fees “for stations far beyond their value” is the problem and says Nexstar has “done it to Cox Cable, DISH, and Charter Spectrum, and now they’re doing it to us.”
Nexstar is telling its side of the story on the websites of its owned stations like Grand Rapids, Mich. NBC affiliate WOOD, where the station group says it “deeply regrets DIRECTV/AT&T’s rejection of the extension” but is negotiating in good faith to restore service.
Below are some examples of what each is saying about the other.
The Nexstar playbook
Nexstar pulls or threatens to pull their stations from the customers of TV providers to increase fees for stations far beyond their value. They’ve done it to Cox Cable, DISH, and Charter Spectrum, and now they’re doing it to us.
The four major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC) have together lost about half their primetime audience over the past few years. Despite this, Nexstar is demanding the largest increase that AT&T has ever seen from any content provider.
By asking us to pay even for viewers who choose to receive Nexstar stations for free over the air or through other means, Nexstar is also reducing consumer choice. For a company seeking to become the largest broadcaster in America, this is behavior that should not be rewarded.
The development is highly unusual for Nexstar but far more common for DIRECTV/AT&T. Nexstar has established a long-term record of completing hundreds of agreements with multichannel video programming distributors (“MVPDs” or cable TV, satellite TV, telecom companies) for the carriage of its television stations and is proud that it has never in its 23-year history had a service interruption related to distribution agreements of the magnitude of the AT&T/DIRECTV interruption. In contrast, DIRECTV is routinely involved in disputes with content providers and following its 2015 acquisition by AT&T has dropped or threatened to black out network and local community programming from DISH Network, Viacom, SJL Broadcasting/Lilly Broadcasting, and others. Between May 30, 2019 and June 10, 2019 alone, viewers of at least 20 other non-Nexstar stations (owned by Deerfield Media, GoCom Media of Illinois, Howard Stirk Holdings, Mercury Broadcast Group, MPS Media, Nashville License Holdings, Roberts Media, Second Generation of Iowa and Waitt Broadcasting) lost access to network and local content as a result AT&T/DIRECTV’s refusal to accept fair market rates for the distribution of leading non-AT&T programming. Notably, in addition to its ownership of DIRECTV, the nation’s largest direct broadcast satellite service provider, in 2018 AT&T acquired Time Warner including global media and entertainment giants Warner Bros., HBO, Turner and CNN.