TV Grudge Match Reignites
Source: Broadcasting and Cable For months, station owners have praised Nexstar Broadcasting for standing up to cable operators in the battle that is known in TV circles as retransmission consent.
Nexstar Broadcasting is insistent on forcing cable systems to pay cash to retransmit its local stations' signals. Since January, three Nexstar stations have been stripped from cable systems that refused to pay. Last week, as the kickoff of the latest season of retransmission-consent negotiations was about to commence, Nexstar COO Duane Lammers was preparing to issue similar demands on behalf of most of his remaining 46 stations.
Nexstar considers its move a noble cause, but few seem willing to follow the broadcaster to the mat and risk the ratings and advertising pain of cable operators' not carrying their signals.
Lammers says he doesn't expect a lot of company in the battle: “There's a lot of people out there ready to fight to the last drop of our blood.”
The Nexstar fight lingers on. The company's stations are still off cable systems in Abilene and Texarkana, Texas, and Joplin, Mo. Cox Communications Director of Programming Debbie Cullen says she hasn't met with Nexstar since February. Cable operators have handed out a few thousand rabbit-ear antennas and lost a few thousand subscribers that have jumped to DirecTV or EchoStar services, both of which pay cash for retransmission consent. (On DBS, broadcast stations come on an optional tier. If the FCC lets cable do that, cable operators would happily pay for retransmission consent—and give away a lot more pairs of rabbit ears.)
But Nexstar's audience has plunged; Nielsen Media's May book shows its stations are down 30%-40% in key dayparts. But the markets are small enough that it's not causing a financial crunch to Nexstar as a whole. Expanding the war will magnify the pain.
Although antitrust laws prevent companies from teaming up against systems, Lammers hopes other broadcasters in Nexstar markets will take up the fight, dramatically increasing the pain to cable. Says Lammers, “It's market-by-market.”
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