Dish, Nexstar enter retrans dispute; WGN-TV and WGN America pulled off

 

Second broadcaster/MSO dispute this week

Here we go again.

Irving, Tex.-based Nexstar Broadcasting removed its stations from satellite provider Dish Wednesday evening at approximately 7 p.m. Central Time due to a retransmission consent dispute, another in a long line of blackouts over the last several years.

Nexstar owns 197 stations in over 100 markets including WGN-TV in Chicago and WGN America, home of their recently-launched NewsNation news show in prime-time. Nexstar bought Tribune Media in 2019 for $4.2 billion, expanding their reach into 42 states.

In addition to Chicago, seven of the top ten markets are affected, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Washington D.C., and Nexstar’s home market of Dallas-Fort Worth. All are former Tribune stations, who had a similar impasse with Dish in 2016. 

This comes a day after Tegna pulled their channels from AT&T-owned DirecTV and Uverse in a similar dispute. 51 markets are affected including Dallas, Houston, St. Louis, San Diego, and Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo.

Both WGN and WGN America have ran ads the last few days warning Dish customers for the impending blackout, including a scrawl across the bottom of the screen during WGN’s newscasts.

Retrans battles have become more common in the last years – and so are the blackouts. While Chicago and other top markets have avoided these kind of battles, luck ran out last year when Fox removed its owned stations and FS1 from Dish for a few days while CBS removed channels from DirecTV in a dispute that lasted for about two weeks as the battles now reached bigger media corporations, who own stations in cities such as New York and Los Angeles. 

A source of frustration by satellite companies is the huge amount of revenue taken in from a robust political season this year as both Tegna and Nexstar took in millions upon millions of dollars – and continue to do so in Georgia, where two runoff elections for Senate seats are taking place with a lot at stake. The satellite providers feel they don’t want to pay increases the broadcast groups are demanding as Dish and DirecTV are bleeding subscribers due to cord-cutting.

Thanks to the Cable Act of 1992, stations can choose compensation or must-carry status from cable and satellite companies to be carried on their systems. But as broadcasters have become bigger due to mergers in order to have more leverage over cable and satellite companies, they’ve been demanding more and more money from them – leading to an increase in customers’ cable bills. 

Dish is known as a tough negotiator, willing to forgo channels in order to get the upper hand. A dispute with Univision lasted a year while HBO has been off of Dish for two years. Dish is also still in a dispute with Sinclair’s regional sports networks and NBC Sports Chicago, and never carried Marquee Sports Network. Despite all of these blackouts and a continued loss of subscribers, Dish isn’t fazed and continues to hold their ground, frustrating broadcast and cable networks. 

A lot of industry insiders are saying there needs to be retrans reform in Washington – an issue not exactly a priority with the Trump administration, despite his ties to the broadcast industry. But with Congress at odds over…everything – and the National Association of Broadcasters’ strong lobbying efforts, I wouldn’t bet on it.

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