Dish to FCC: Deny Nexstar-Tribune Deal

Add Dish to the list of those looking to block Nexstar's effort to buy the Tribune stations Sinclair failed to snag. That came in a petition to the FCC to deny the deal this week, the deadline for such filings.

The deal would make Nexstar the nation's largest station group with 216 stations either owned or to which the company would provide various services.

As are cable operators, Dish is primarily concerned with the size of the new company and its impact on the prices Dish pays to carry their important local TV station signals. NCTA-The Internet & Television Association also said the deal should not be approved absent conditions, but stopped short of petitioning to deny it. But there was not too much daylight between its position and Dish.

"Substantial further consolidation in the broadcast industry threatens to harm localism and consumers, necessitating a careful review of whether this transaction serves the public interest," it told the FCC, a review of the deal as structured fails.

Dish said since a retrans impasse holds the threat of losing both the Nexstar and former Tribune stations, it would more likely "capitulate" to higher retrans demands from the station than if they remained separate companies. It also said the simultaneous loss of all those stations would have greater "reputational" effects on the company, extending the harm of blackouts beyond the markets where they occur.

Dish said that if the FCC does decide to approve the deal, it must first determine that Nexstar's Joint Sales Agreements (JSAs) do not run afoul of FCC prohibition on joint retrans negotiations among non-commonly owned stations in a market.

Nexstar has announced deals with Tegna and Scripps or 19 of 21 stations it is spinning off to comply with duopoly rules and the national audience reach cap, but Dish said the FCC needs to ensure those are "arms length" deals, which was one of the concerns about the Sinclair-Tribune deal that caused the FCC to designate it for hearing, essentially killing it.

Dish also said the FCC should require Nexstar to terminate its JSAs. The FCC under FCC Chairman Ajit Pai reversed the FCC's "strict scrutiny," as it were, of such sidecar deals as counting toward ownership limits, but Dish said whether or not they were an effort to skirt the rules, as the previous FCC presumed, "[s]ince JSA stations can command rates that are close to those exacted by Nexstar and higher than those received by their peers, for all practical purposes these stations behave as if they were one with Nexstar in the retransmission market, and they succeed in that market as if they were one."

That argument is unlikely to hold sway with the FCC's Republican majority.

Without those conditions, said Dish, the deal should be denied. 

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.