ACA Slams Nexstar for Seeking Local Government Role in Retrans Dispute

The American Cable Association has taken issue with Nexstar's online effort to sell the importance of its signals to local government and the impact of their absence from Antietam Broadband, with which it is currently at a retrans impasse.

ACA president Matt Polka blogged that Nexstar was pressuring a local government (in Hagerstown, Md.) to take its side in the dispute. While he called the request preposterous, he added that government oversight was in order, specifically the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission and FCC attention to the proposed Nexstar-Tribune merger, which ACA has big problems with.

By citing the station's role in public safety in calling for local government help, says ACA, Nexstar "wants elected officials to pressure a private company to raise cable bills for their constituents."

For its part, Nexstar's WDVM Hagerstown has posted a series of short stories on its website pointing to the local news, sports, consumer and emergency info and other content Antietam subs are missing during the impasse, a variation on the more common theme of TV stations during impasses, which is that cable subs can access the signals over-the-air—with some stations even handing out over-the-air antennas to make the point.

In the story Polka was citing, WDVM staffers and execs attended a City Council meeting to demonstrate to the mayor and council the station's "commitment to the community." While the council did not appear prepared to weigh in, WDVM VP and GM Andrew Wyatt "wants the city to get involved," WDVM reported. "The city in general has an obligation and a duty here to try to keep the public safe. Our TV station does a great deal to keep this community safe," said Wyatt, according to the station website.

Calling for government intervention is not new. Both sides of retrans impasses have in the past sought FCC help, suggesting the other side was not negotiating in good faith. But as a general matter, broadcasters have fought government intervention in retrans disputes, arguing that it is a marketplace negotiation, while cable ops say that it is, instead, a thumb on the scale for broadcasters.

Polka used the opportunity to widen his criticism to the retrans regime writ large: "Nexstar’s actions confirm our longstanding view that something is fundamentally wrong in the retransmission consent marketplace more generally," said Polka. "As Congress renews key satellite television legislation this year, it should consider Nexstar’s behavior – and commonsense reform to protect the public from such behavior."

The FCC under previous management declined to make blackouts a de facto bad faith negotiation tactic.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.