Verizon, Nexstar Warn of Potential Blackout Friday

WPRI Nexstar Crawl Verizon Fios

Nexstar's WRPI warns viewers about a potential Verizon Fios blackout with a crawl during a newscast. (Image credit: News Bloopers)

Verizon's Fios TV and Nexstar Media Group are warning viewers that a dispute over retransmission-consent and other distribution fees could result in a programming blackout on Friday.

The dispute involves 10 Nexstar TV stations including WPIX New York, Nexstar’s cable channel NewsNation and the Antenna TV digital broadcast network.

On its website, Verizon Communications said it is working hard to negotiate with Nexstar to reach a new agreement.

“However, Nexstar has proposed charging over 64% more for its programming. Verizon remains committed to making these channels available to our customers, but simply cannot agree to such unreasonable increases,” Verizon said.

Gary Weitman, chief communications officer for Nexstar, said the company “is simply seeking fair market rates for the live sports, local news and high-quality entertainment programming we provide to millions of viewers across the country.”

Weitman added that Nexstar has “a long track record of negotiating fairly and avoiding service interruptions in our markets and we hope to reach agreement with Verizon Fios. We don't want the viewers in our local markets to miss any of this weekend’s college or NFL football games, or any of the other valuable programming we provide.”

On its stations’ websites, Nexstar has posted alerts telling viewers the stations could be “forced off your lineup and important programming you pay for could disappear.”

The website said the stations have “presented a proposal for fair value, based on the importance and value our programming brings to viewers. Despite our tireless efforts, Verizon has refused our fair offer and is making negotiations very difficult. Our offer is fair. And now they may hold you the subscriber hostage. It's not right.”

Nexstar stations are also running ads about the disputes and on-screen crawls under programming.

On WPRI, Nexstar’s CBS affiliate in Providence, Rhode Island, the crawl reads:  “Alert: As of midnight Friday, October 14, Verizon Fios may take away WPRI CBS 12 from your channels. If so you could lose next weekend’s Alabama/Tennessee game and the Pats/Browns game on that Sunday, plus our CBS primetime shows, CBS 12 Local news and much more programming you pay for today. Call 833 Luv WRPI and demand Verizon Fios keep WPRI CBS 12.”

The American Television Alliance (ATVA), which represents cable, satellite and phone companies, said it sent emails to policymakers in Washington alerting them to the potential blackout.

The email, from ATVA executive director Mike Chappell, used the subject line “It’s time to stop Nexstar's blackouts.”

Here's the text of the email: 

“Nexstar, the single largest owner of television stations in the country, is about to black out Verizon Fios subscribers. This means that viewers in DC, New York, Philly, Buffalo, and Norfolk could miss major professional football and baseball games - including the World Series, and local news unless Verizon pays Nexstar higher fees. And if Verizon pays Nexstar higher fees, Fios customers will have to pay higher bills.  

“Maybe you think this is just another tussle between big companies and both sides are to blame. But Nexstar has a history here. In 2020, Nexstar engaged in the ‘largest blackout ever’ on DISH, cutting off service from millions of Americans in more than 100 cities. The year before, Nexstar blacked out millions on DirecTV and AT&T platforms.  

“And that’s not all.  

“Last summer, Comcast accused Nexstar of violating commitments they had made to the FCC, as well as the FCC's ownership rules. According to their complaint, Nexstar was operating more stations than permitted by law so that it could raise prices on consumers. Similarly, the Department of Justice sued Nexstar for unlawfully colluding in the advertising market to raise advertising rates.  

“Nexstar, in other words, has a track record.  

“When Nexstar bought Tribune in 2019, it told the FCC — at great length — that it would improve local service and news, thereby serving the public interest. Since then, it has shown nothing but contempt for the viewers it claims to serve.  

“Enough is enough. It is time for Congress and the FCC to step in."

In addition to WPIX, Nexstar stations carried by Verizon Fios TV include WSYR Syracuse, New York; WTEN Albany, New York; WPRI Providence; WIVB Buffalo; WPHL Philadelphia; WDCW Washington, D.C.; WHTM Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; WRIC Richmond, Virginia; and WAVY and WVBT Norfolk, Virginia. ■

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.