NCTA: Nexstar-Tribune Needs Conditions to Pass Muster

NCTA-The Internet & Television Association said the FCC will need to put conditions on the merger of Nexstar and Tribune, otherwise the deal runs a " material risk of consumer and competitive harm."

That came in comments on the proposed deal filed with the FCC this week. Nexstar made a bid for the stations, in the process positioning itself to become the nation's largest broadcast group, after Sinclair's deal cratered spectacularly in an FCC hearing designation order and a crossfire of lawsuits.

NCTA is primarily concerned about the impact of the merged broadcast group on retrans rates, particularly if the FCC allows the company to own two of the top four stations in Indianapolis, as they have sought permission to do, or to retain its numerous joint agreements with other stations.

Related: Without Conditions, ACA Says Nextstar-Tribune Should be Nixed.

The FCC still presumptively prevents ownership of those two top stations in a market, but under FCC chair Ajit Pai and his Republican majority, loosened late last year by saying the FCC would consider allowing it on a case-by-case basis.

As to the combined company's size and reach (owning or providing services to 216 stations in 118 markets), NCTA says: "The increased concentration of station ownership, far from benefiting multi-channel video programming distributors (“MVPDs”) as Applicants implausibly suggest, will in fact increase Applicants’ leverage in retransmission consent negotiations and lead to higher consumer prices as a result of the unreasonable retransmission consent demands that this transaction makes more likely."

Related: Tribune Media Shareholders Approve Nexstar Deal

NCTA said that if the FCC does approve the deal, it should at least prevent the Indianapolis combo of two of the top four--it says the broadcasters have not met the burden of proving the benefits outweigh the harms in this case, so it should not be allowed anyway.

The cable trade group also says the FCC should prevent the company from having any joint sales or services or marketing agreements in markets where it will already have a duopoly. The FCC does not count such JSAs and LMAs and SSAs against local ownership limits, another change under Pai from the previous FCC, which did presume them to be essentially efforts at de facto control that skirted the rules.

NCTA called for conditions, but stopped short of calling for the merger to be blocked.

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.