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New Year Brings New Retrans Fight

Push did come to shove on New Year’s Eve, with Cox Communications Inc. and Cable One Inc. now embroiled in a retransmission-consent dispute that has led to a broadcaster yanking five TV stations off their lineups.

Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc., based in Irving, Texas, pulled the stations from the two cable operators Jan. 1. In what has become a nasty public battle, the broadcaster is seeking cash compensation -- a monthly per-subscriber, per-station license fee of 30 cents -- from the two MSOs in order for them to continue carrying the stations.

When its old retransmission-consent agreement with Nexstar expired effective the end of Dec. 31, Cox dropped NBC affiliate KRBC in Abilene, Texas, and KLST, a CBS affiliate in San Angelo, Texas.

Similarly, Cable One no longer had legal permission to carry -- and therefore had to delete -- KTAL, an NBC affiliate in Texarkana, Texas; and KODE, an ABC affiliate, and KSNF, an NBC affiliate, in Joplin, Mo.

Cox has made A/B switches available to its subscribers in Abilene and San Angelo, but it hasn’t gotten many requests for them, spokeswoman Amy Cohn said Monday.

“We have had very few requests for A/B switches, and very few calls at all,” she said.

Cox has replaced the TV stations’ channel slots with HBO Family.

Nexstar chief operating officer Duane Lammers said there are no ongoing discussions with Cox or Cable One.

“The only one that was in question that is not off is KSAN, and we’re just still sorting through whether or not they have a legal agreement or not,” Lammers said. “In the meantime, they’ll continue to carry it, and we’ll continue to assess our options on that one.”

The broadcaster has been urging Cox and Cable One subscribers to switch to EchoStar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network.

“We are continuing our campaign to educate customers and to point out the options they have,” Lammers said.

Since Nexstar is “adamant” in its position, and it has rejected Cable One’s alternative offers to cash, “I don’t know what there is to talk about,” the vice president of the MSO’s central division, Tom Basinger, said Monday.

So far, Cable One has given out about 3,000 rabbit ears in Joplin, and it expects to get a supply of another 5,000 in the next few days, according to Basinger.

He claimed that Cable One hasn’t gotten many calls from subscribers in Joplin or Texarkana. “The weekend was very quiet,” he said. “We were surprised by the low volume of calls.”

Cox, Cable One and the broadcaster have been running TV spots and print ads outlining their positions in the dispute.

Cable One and Cox said they will not pay a broadcaster cash to carry a free, over-the-air TV station. In its old retransmission-consent pact, Cable One bought ad time from Nexstar’s stations in exchange for securing permission to carry their signals.

Nexstar argued that it gets paid by the direct-broadcast satellite companies that carry its TV stations, and it expects the same from cable operators.

Last week, Nexstar was maintaining that Cox would also have to drop KSAN, an NBC affiliate in San Angelo, Texas. But Cox contended that its retransmission-consent deal for KSAN didn’t expire until the end of this year, and the station is still on the operator’s lineup.