TVB Conference: Sook Challenges Networks Over Retrans

Nexstar Chairman/President/CEO Perry Sook was both gracious and fiery upon accepting his B&C Broadcaster of the Year award at the TVB Forecast Conference in Manhattan Thursday. Extracting retransmission consent cash from pay-TV operators has been perhaps Sook’s largest contribution to the industry, and he said he wondered why “certain networks” were suddenly clamoring for a taste of the revenue stations have fought for.

“I struggle to understand why certain networks all of a sudden feel that they are entitled to a piece of this revenue when they had no hand in the negotiation, documentation and collection of it,” he said, likening such behavior to “the bully on the playground.”

Sook said it was “rather humbling” to think back to a time when Nexstar executives held up a penny in front of a cable operator as a negotiating tactic, contrasted with retrans forecasted to represent over a billion dollars in revenue for stations next year. He was also humbled upon recalling his days doing the 6 pm.-midnight shift at “The voice of Punxsutawney, PA” and learning about broadcasting both on the job and while reading Broadcasting Magazine as a teen.

Sook acknowledged the troubles in the TV industry, and mentioned how the Broadcaster of the Year presentation used to be a full-scale banquet at the Javits Center, compared to a more modest gathering this year at McGraw-Hill headquarters, with sandwiches and sodas. Sook lightened the mood by tossing bags of snacks to a laughing audience.

He quoted TVB president Chris Rohrs in saying that “ideas are the new currency of our business,” and said local television’s goodwill in its marketplace represented major revenue potential for stations. One idea involves a partnership between network, affiliates and a distribution partner, along with a major auto manufacturer, to issue exclusive $1,000 coupons towards a new car, with all parties splitting the revenue.

“As commercial television stations, our primary business purpose is to ring the cash register for local advertisers,” Sook said. “If we keep that business purpose in mind, we will always be in business, and it will be a good business.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.