Dish threatens to remove Nexstar stations after $1 billion retrans demand

Customers could lose access to Nexstar's 160+ local stations and "low-rated" WGN America on December 2.
(Image: Dish Network Corporation/Graphic: The Desk)

Dish Network is not having a very good Thanksgiving.

On Thursday, the satellite TV company accused Nexstar Media Group of holding more than 160 stations across 120 local TV markets for ransom, saying the media company wants $1 billion in re-transmission fees or it will pull the stations from the satellite platform on December 2.

Dish Network said the move would amount to the “largest local station blackout in TV history” and accused Nexstar of “trying to use its market power to demand unreasonable rate increases while intentionally using millions of Americans as pawns in their negotiations.”

“In recent years, Nexstar went on a $12 billion local broadcast station buying spree to become the largest and most powerful station owner in the country,” a Dish Network spokesperson said in a media release on Thursday, referring to Nexstar’s acquisition of Tribune Media and other broadcast companies.

“Now that Nexstar is the biggest in the industry, it is trying to strong-arm companies like Dish to pay outrageous rates and force unprecedented increases onto customers,” the spokesperson said.

On Thursday, Nexstar stations across the country began running their own announcement on the websites of affected stations. As is typical in re-transmission disputes, Nexstar said its demand is “a proposal for fair value based on the importance and value our programming brings to our viewers.”

“Despite our tireless efforts, Dish has refused our fair offer and is making negotiations very difficult,” a Nexstar spokesperson said. “You’ve might have seen them do this before. They will tell you it’s for your benefit, but don’t believe it. Our offer is fair. And now they hold you the subscriber hostage. It’s not right.”

In California, a Nexstar-imposed blackout of its channels on Dish Network would affect stations in nearly every television market, including:

  • KTLA (Channel 5) in Los Angeles;
  • KRON-TV (Channel 4) in San Francisco;
  • KTXL (Channel 40) in Sacramento;
  • KFMB-TV (Channel 8) in San Diego;
  • KSEE (Channel 24) and KGPE (Channel 47) in Fresno, and;
  • KGET (Channel 17) in Bakersfield.

Once rare, carriage disputes between programmers like Nexstar and pay TV companies like Dish Network have become common in recent years as programmers seek to raise fees to cover the high cost of offering shows, sports and movies, which typically results in higher bills for customers.

The move is largely cited as a significant reason why consumers have dropped cable and satellite TV packages for cheaper streaming TV offerings like Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, AT&T TV Now and Dish Network-owned Sling TV. All of those services have agreements with Nexstar — and all have been forced to raise their subscriber fees in recent years.

“Since becoming the nation’s largest local station owner, Nexstar has increased its annual revenue by $1 billion a year,” Brian Neylon, a Dish Network executive, said on Thursday. “Now, it has set its sights on DISH customers as their next big payday. Nexstar is demanding more than $1 billion in fees for its television channels. This shocking increase is the highest we’ve ever seen. Nexstar is intentionally turning its back on its public interest obligation and instead demanding consumers pay significantly more for the channels they could receive for free over-the-air.”

In addition to the local broadcast channels, Dish says Nexstar is forcing it to carry WGN America as part of its overall deal, a channel that Dish Network has carried in the past but one that the satellite company says it shouldn’t have to offer anymore.

“Nexstar is demanding a significant payment for this low-rated channel that airs syndicated reruns found on other Dish stations and features a news program that can be accessed for free online,” a Dish Network company spokesperson said.

Neylon said the satellite company hopes to reach a deal with Nexstar before its agreement lapses early next month.

“It’s our goal to reach an agreement with Nexstar that is fair for all parties involved, especially our customers,” Neylon said in a statement. “We will continue to fight on behalf of our customers to keep TV bills as low as possible, and we hope Nexstar sees how important it is to come to a deal that is beneficial for all.”

Nexstar, on the other hand, appears prepared for a lengthy dispute, one that appears headed toward a blackout. They’ve urged Dish Network customers to call the satellite program and “demand [the channels] not be interrupted — get what you pay for!”

Whatever agreement comes out of the dispute, Dish Network customers are likely to pay a lot more.

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