By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man – @tvanswerman

DIRECTV last week charged in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission that Nexstar has forced 21 Sinclair-owned CW affiliates to deny their signals to DIRECTV Stream as part of an ongoing carriage dispute between Nexstar and DIRECTV.

But Nexstar, which is a majority owner of The CW, has now countered in its own letter to the FCC that says DIRECTV Stream’s carriage agreement to carry those stations actually expired last November. The broadcaster says DIRECTV violated the law by allowing DIRECTV Stream to continue carrying the Sinclair-owned CW affiliates after that. (DIRECTV’s satellite service is not affected by the Sinclair CW dispute.) DIRECTV says it was forced to remove the 21 CW stations on July 12.

“As DIRECTV is well aware, its agreement with The CW authorizing streaming of CW programming on DIRECTV’s vMVPD service (“DIRECTV STREAM”) expired in November 2022. DIRECTV was aware of the fact that it was unlawfully streaming The CW’s programming; DIRECTV’s filing plainly acknowledges that The CW licenses its programming in the same way as other broadcast networks, and yet DIRECTV willfully continued to stream that programming for eight months after its CW network streaming license had expired,” states the July 19 letter from Nexstar’s senior vice president, Mark Boyes.

DIRECTV issued the following statement on Sunday:

As we stated in the letter, Nexstar’s behavior underscores the widely adopted position that the Commission should not extend the retransmission consent regime to online providers. DIRECTV was carrying those CWs through our valid agreement with that station group, an agreement that pre-dated Nexstar’s acquisition of the national CW network.”

The latest salvo of charges comes as the carriage dispute between the companies enters its fourth week. DIRECTV on July 2 lost 159 Nexstar-owned local stations when the two companies could not reach a new carriage agreement. The impasse includes network affiliates for ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW.

Nexstar has local stations in such large markets as Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Denver. To see a list of the Nexstar stations, click here.

In its letter to the FCC, Nexstar asks the agency to disregard the DIRECTV letter as “procedurally inappropriate and an abuse of process.”

“DIRECTV seeks to exploit the expiration of its retransmission consent agreement with Nexstar in an attempt to prove that Nexstar is “withhold[ing] programming” on CW-affiliated stations to gain leverage in its retransmission consent negotiations. This is false,” Nexstar says in the letter. “DIRECTV has long been an opponent of broadcasters’ retransmission consent rights as conferred by Congress, and this filing—which is only tenuously related to the docket in which it is filed—is simply its latest effort to thwart fair marketplace negotiations by making repeated
judicial and regulatory filings comprised of speculation and broadside attacks on Nexstar and other members of the broadcast industry.”

“DIRECTV is not the wronged party here—it is the lawbreaker,” the letter adds.

The blackout could be a lengthy one because of the long-term feud between the companies. DIRECTV in March sued Nexstar, Mission Broadcasting and White Knight Broadcasting, alleging the three companies have violated anti-trust law in a scheme to pump up carriage fees for local network affiliates.

The satcaster, and its sister services, U-verse and DIRECTV Stream, have been without Mission’s 26 local stations and White Knight’s three stations since October due to separate carriage disputes. However, DIRECTV has maintained that Nexstar, which serves as the operating business for both station groups, has pulled the strings behind the scenes of the negotiations and forced the two companies to seek higher fees.

DIRECTV last week also won a lawsuit against Nexstar over excessive carriage fees paid eight years ago to carry a CW affiliate.

The satcaster’s letter to the FCC reflects the deep animosity between the two companies.

“This behavior reveals what is truly motivating affiliates’ calls for regulation of online  providers,” the letter states.  “It is not local news; it is their economic position. Broadcast affiliates, including Nexstar, have complained that networks control negotiations with online providers to the detriment of local stations, especially local news. Now that it owns a network, however, Nexstar has done just that—required another broadcaster to black out programming on its local stations notwithstanding agreements that other broadcasters had negotiated. Nexstar’s conduct shows that affiliates’ attempt to regulate online providers has never really been about “preserving local broadcasting” or anything else of the sort. Affiliates simply want the government to give them leverage against the networks.”

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— Phillip Swann