Blumenthal: DirecTV Should Accept Nexstar Extension

Prompted by the absence of Nexstar-owned Connecticut TV stations WTNH and WCTX Hartford-New Haven from DirecTV's lineup due to a retrans impasse, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has written the heads of both companies to urge them to get the stations back on the satellite service.

More than 120 Nexstar stations nationwide have been off DirecTV, DirecTV Now and AT&T U-verse TV since July 3 after DirecTV declined an extension offer.

In the letter, Blumenthal said he was taking no sides, but he clearly seemed to be favoring the broadcaster position. He said the "denial of service" was unfair and unnecessary." He also told them to negotiate "in good faith" to reach an agreement. The FCC requires retrans negotiations to be in good faith.

As part of that process, he said the stations should go back up until at least Aug. 2, citing Nexstar's extension offer to do so--Nexstar posted the letter on its website. As to DirecTV, he said that the "cutoff seems to have the sole purpose of enhancing DirecTV bargaining leverage-with severe harm to consumers."

DirecTV owner AT&T saw the issue quite differently in a statement July 4, putting the takedown squarely on Nexstar.

"We had hoped to prevent Nexstar from pulling its stations from our customers’ lineups and we offered Nexstar more money to keep them available," the company said. "Nexstar simply said no and elected to remove them instead. Nexstar has chosen to hold our customers hostage and put them into the center of its negotiations. This is the same old Nexstar playbook. They pull or threaten to pull their signals from customers of many distributors to increase fees for “free TV” stations that far exceed their value. They’ve done it to Cox Cable, Dish and Charter Spectrum and now to us."

It is not unusual for legislators to seek resolution on behalf of their constituents.

Blumenthal did get a gentle shot in on escalating retrans asks from TV stations, saying that "although I understand that AT&T/DirecTV is reluctant to pay more for the same programming, Connecticut consumers understandably value Connecticut-based journalism and broadcasting."

In that same July 4 statement, DirecTV had made that point, saying: "The Big Four broadcast network content aired by many of these stations has collectively lost about half its prime time audience over the past five years. Despite this viewership decline, Nexstar is now demanding the largest increase AT&T has ever seen proposed by any content provider."

He also said that DirecTV should refund a portion of its subs' monthly bill "commensurate" with the value of WTNH and WCTX.

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.