Nexstar Media Group, currently winding through the approval process for its $6.4 billion purchase of Tribune Media, is fighting retransmission consent battles with two small operators, primarily over pricing disputes.
TDS Telecom subscribers in Indiana and Tennessee lost access to three Nexstar stations — WISH (The CW) in Indianapolis, WKRN (ABC) in Nashville, and WATE (ABC) in Knoxville, Tenn., — on Jan, 1, over what TDS calls a demand for a 129% rate increase. Antietam Broadband customers in Hagerstown, Md., lost access to independent station WDVM-TV on Jan. 1, also over a rate dispute.
In a statement, TDS said it has never taken down a major broadcast affiliate and offered to give Nexstar a reasonable increase to no avail. TDS added that the broadcaster’s demands are “well outside industry norms,” and that conceding to them would “unduly impact customer bills as we would be unable to absorb all of these extra costs.”
TDS continued that it hoped the blackout was temporary and that it “will continue to try to reach an agreement that will allow us to include Nexstar channels on TDS TV.”
The Nexstar stations countered with claims that its proposed increases were reasonable.
“We have been negotiating tirelessly and in good faith to establish a mutually agreeable contract with TDS, proposing fair and reasonable terms,” the stations said on their respective websites. “Unfortunately, our efforts have been thwarted by what appears to be a strategy of unrealistic proposals and outright delay by a distributor willing to hold its paying subscribers captive because it won’t agree to pay a fair price for your local ABC station.”
At Antietam Broadband, the dispute also seems to center on pricing.
WDVM said on its website that its parent Nexstar has reached retrans agreements with all major carriers in the past.
“We expected that we would reach an agreement to allow you – our viewers – to continue receiving WDVM 25 on an uninterrupted basis from Antietam Broadband,” the station said. “Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, Antietam Broadband had other ideas.”
For its part, Antietam said on its website that WDVM is demanding an unreasonable rate increase to continue carriage and offered a free antenna (limited to one per household) for customers to access the station over the air. WDVM was formerly known as WHAG-TV and changed its call letters in 2017, shortly after losing its NBC affiliation. The station has expanded its coverage to include Washington, D.C., and parts of Virginia. The channel had previously focused on the Hagerstown/Washington County areas.
WDVM and WISH-TV (part of the TDS dispute) also are considered to be among the 13-to-15 overlap stations that could be swapped or sold by Nexstar to get the Tribune deal approved.
Nexstar agreed to purchase Tribune in December in a deal, including assumed debt, valued at about $6.4 billion. The addition of Tribune’s 42 stations would make Nexstar the largest station group owner in the country with 216 stations, and has attracted concerns from consumer and industry groups.
Nexstar has said putting the Tribune stations on its own retrans rate card would add another $75 million to its coffers. That take could be even more as retrans deals expire.
Not all the news on the retrans front was bad. Nexstar managed to hammer out a deal with Cox Communications on Monday for two stations in New Haven, Conn. — ABC affiliate WTNH and its digital counterpart WCXT. Terms were not disclosed.