Nexstar, Mission Broadcasting fined by FCC over New York’s WPIX

Must also sell station in twelve months

In a decision that could have ripple effects for local television, the FCC has fined both Nexstar and Mission Broadcasting over their relationship with one another regarding WPIX in New York City, the market’s CW affiliate.

The FCC has also ordered Mission to sell the station in the nation’s largest media market.

The agency fined the Irving, Tex. company $1.2 million, and also fined Mission – based two hours away in Wichita Falls, nearly $620,000. Mission owns 29 stations in 26 markets – all controlled by Nexstar through either local marketing or shared services agreements, including Rockford, Ill. ABC affiliate WTVO, who is in a shared services agreement with Nexstar Fox affiliate WQRF.

The relationship between the two companies has been questionable as many critics – notably competitors and cable and satellite companies – wondered if Mission was nothing more than a window-dresser for Nexstar, as the FCC discovered the latter controlled WPIX’s operations, including hiring, advertising sales, retransmission negotiations, and more. Nexstar’s promise not to meddle in WPIX’s operations was one of the key provisions in approving the station’s sale to Mission.

Nexstar purchased Tribune Media in 2019 after the formerly Chicago-based station group had its merger with Sinclair derailed by the FCC over similar issues involving WPIX and WGN-TV to get under the 39 percent coverage cap Congress set for station group ownership. As a result, WPIX was sold by Nexstar to Scripps in 2019 but mere months later, Nexstar used an option they kept to repurchase WPIX and transferred it to Mission, buying WPIX from Scripps for $75 million – far under what a typical New York City local station is valued for. With Nexstar in control of the station, it became a de facto O&O and became a sister station to WGN once again.

Evidence of Nexstar’s control was apparent last year when the company opened a New York City bureau for NewsNation in WPIX’s studios at the Daily News Building, providing a home for its evening programming. On April 25, a ribbon-cutting ceremony took place at WPIX attended by New York City Mayor Eric Adams and evening hosts Dan Abrahms, Elizabeth Vargas, and Chris Cuomo. Once known as the former WGN America, Nexstar has transformed the channel into an all-news network.

If you look at the footer of WPIX’s website – which is similar in look to other Nexstar station sites, it has a Nexstar copyright byline – not Mission’s – and is branded “New York’s Very Own” – similar to WGN’s “Chicago Very Own”.

“The [FCC] is prohibited from allowing a company to own or control broadcast stations that in total reach more than 39 percent of the national television audience,” said FCC Chairperson and Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel. “The record here reflects a situation where a company exceeds this threshold. Unless and until Congress changes this law, it is the responsibility of this agency to enforce it.”

Another view came from Republican commissioner Brendan Carr, stating “Nexstar may be exercising too much control over WPIX.” However, he noted the company could appeal the fine.

Nexstar CEO Perry Sook says he does exactly that, saying his company “has always complied with FCC regulations and that its relationship with WPIX-TV under a Local Marketing Agreement was approved by the FCC in 2020, when WPIX-TV was purchased by Mission Broadcasting, Inc.”

Cable and satellite companies DirecTV and Comcast praised the FCC’s actions Thursday.

Unless the appeal is successful, Mission would have twelve months to divest WPIX or for Nexstar to sell some of its lower-market stations to get under the cap. The move likely puts the kibosh on Mission trying to buy WADL Detroit from owner Kevin Adell, whose sale is tied up with the FCC as cable and satellite companies have objected to the sale for the same reasons seen in New York.

On Wednesday however, Nexstar and Mission claimed a victory after a federal judge tossed a lawsuit against them and affiliate White Knight Broadcasting brought against them by DirecTV, saying there was no evidence of the three conspiring to boost retransmission fees.


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