By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man – @tvanswerman

TV Answer Man, we don’t have our Fox channel in Charlotte on DIRECTV. DIRECTV says it doesn’t want to pay the station because it says on their web site that it would mean “unwarranted price hikes.” How can they say that when they increase our prices every year? No matter what, they raise prices so how can they say that?! — Louise, Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Louise, DIRECTV on July 2 lost 159 Nexstar-owned local stations in a dispute over carriage fees. The blackout includes network affiliates for ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW. You can see a station list here. (This also affects DIRECTV Stream and U-verse.)

Since the fee fight began, DIRECTV has maintained that Nexstar is demanding an excessive rate for its signals. Nexstar denies this, saying it’s only asking for their fair market value. We don’t know who’s telling the truth because the companies, as in all carriage disputes, do not disclose their offers.

But we do know that DIRECTV has maintained from the start that it’s refusing to pay because it would lead to price hikes for its customers.

“Nexstar Media Group is currently demanding more than double the current rates for customers to get the same programming. DIRECTV is working to protect our customers from these unwarranted price increases,” the company says on its web site.

Louise, I can understand your skepticism here. DIRECTV has raised its existing subscriber prices every January for the last several years. While it’s true that escalating fee demands from programmers have contributed to the price increases, it’s a safe guess that DIRECTV will raise prices again in January 2024 whether it pays Nexstar or not. (DIRECTV does have a two-year price lock for new customers so anyone who signed up for that promotion won’t see an increase.)

DIRECTV could argue that if it pays Nexstar what it wants, the annual price hike will be even larger than normal. (The company last January raised prices by $5-10 a month on most packages.) But your customers might have trouble accepting your argument that you want to stop price increases when you increase prices every year.

Of course, it wouldn’t sound as good if DIRECTV said it was working to limit an inevitable price increase.

Nexstar can be called out for questionable statements as well. For instance, the broadcaster cries that DIRECTV removed its stations, suggesting it was the satcaster’s decision. However, DIRECTV was legally required to remove them from its lineup because federal law prohibits a TV provider to carry local stations without their permission. Nexstar doesn’t mention that second part of the equation.

The TV Answer Man will continue to monitor this impasse and report back here if anything significant changes. Until then, happy viewing and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann