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Nexstar Stations Overstate Hill Blackout Letters

Retrans battles are known for their gamesmanship, but Nexstar’s characterization of some of the Hill pushback on the ongoing retrans impasse with AT&T’s DirecTV drew the ire of one local paper, some MVPD fans, and, ultimately, some corrections.

At press time, the blackout was still ongoing, but not a couple of stories and headlines that had populated Nexstar TV stations.

Related: AT&T, Nexstar Meet But Station Blackout Goes on

Nexstar's WIVB Buffalo, N.Y., posted a brief news story July 10 under the headline: "Congressman Brian Higgins calls on AT&T to end blackout of local TV stations." Well, not quite, according to the letter. And that was not the only Nexstar station to frame those letters as call-outs to AT&T when they were calling for both or either to get the stations back on.

Higgins did send a letter to both Nexstar and AT&T, one of a host of such letters that have been fired off from Capitol Hill trying to urge resolution of the carriage impasse that saw 120 Nexstar stations come off DirecTV and Uverse platforms July 3.

Related: ATVA Says Nexstar Blackout Argues for STELAR Renewal

Some other legislators had indeed put the onus on AT&T, given Nexstar's assertion that it had offered a 30-day extension that was denied. (AT&T says it was conditioned on retroactive application of the fee it was not willing to pay). Nexstar had accused AT&T of a misinformation campaign when AT&T said Nexstar had "pulled" the stations. 

But as a column in the Buffalo News pointed out, Higgins was not one of them, as Broadcasting & Cable confirmed.

Not surprisingly, the American Television Alliance, which is battling broadcasters over what it sees as usurious retrans fees and too-frequent blackouts, noted the Buffalo piece in an e-mail slamming Nexstar.

According to a copy of the letter obtained by Multichannel News, Higgins did not call on AT&T to end the blackout. In the letter, addressed to both Dan York, chief content officer of AT&T, and Perry Sook, who heads Nexstar, Rep. Higgins strongly urged both companies to "complete negotiations so that any impact to access to services is minimized."

He cited WIVB and WNLO, both in Western New York, and urged "all parties" to negotiate in good faith and asked "each side" to serve the public interest by prioritizing the interests of their viewers. 

When contacted about the news stories--ironically, one of the TV station pitches for carriage is the importance of local news--a Nexstar spokeswoman conceded that the WIVB headline "was a little bit misleading," though technically they were calling on AT&T as well as Nexstar to restore the channels. "[W]e have contacted WIVB and the station has updated the article and noted the correction," she said.

Nexstar's WCBD Charleston also told its audience in a headline on its website: "Rep. Cunningham to DirecTV: End blackout of local TV Stations."  And while Nexstar certainly maintains it is AT&T that is keeping the content from its subs, that was not what Rep. Joe Cunningham's letter said.

Cunningham said specifically he was not taking sides in "a business dispute between two private companies." He urged both sides to negotiate a resolution, and in fact asked both not to use his constituents "as a bargaining chip in your contractual dispute."

The Nexstar spokesperson said that headline would be changed and the story had, indeed, been corrected at press time as well.