Nexstar stations go dark on Dish Network

The logos of Nexstar Media Group and satellite TV company Dish Network.
(Logos: Nexstar Media Group/Dish Network, Graphic designed by The Desk)

Nexstar Media Group pulled around 160 local TV stations across 115 regional markets from satellite service Dish Network on Wednesday after both sides failed to reach a new carriage agreement.

In a statement, a Dish Network executive illustrated the dispute as the “largest local station blackout in TV history.”

“We made a fair offer to keep Nexstar stations available to our customers, but Nexstar rejected it,” Bryan Neylon, a Dish Network executive, said in a statement emailed to reporters, adding that the satellite company’s latest offer came just today

“Nexstar never responded,” Neylon alleged. “We don’t understand why Nexstar insists on prioritizing greed above American viewers, many of whom rely on local programming for their news and entertainment, especially during this global pandemic.”

The blackout leaves 5.4 million Dish Network subscribers without access to one or more local stations owned by Nexstar. In California, those stations include Los Angeles CW affiliate KTLA (Channel 5), Sacramento FOX affiliate KTXL (Channel 40), San Francisco independent station KRON (Channel 4) and others in San Diego, Fresno and Bakersfield.

“Nexstar is demanding over $1 billion in fees for stations that are available for free over the air,” Neylon said. “This shocking increase is the largest we have ever seen. While we work to keep subscribers’ TV bills as low as possible, Nexstar has no problem passing the buck on to American consumers.”

On Wednesday, Dish Network’s chief rival AT&T complained that another programmer, TEGNA, was holding local stations hostage from viewers of its DirecTV and U-Verse services. A source familiar with negotiations told The Desk AT&T had offered an increase in re-transmission fees, but its offer was rejected by TEGNA. Local stations owned by TEGNA were pulled from DirecTV and U-Verse on Tuesday.

Once rare, carriage disputes between programmers like Nexstar and TEGNA and distributors like AT&T and Dish Network are becoming increasingly common as programmers ask for more money in exchange for distributors providing their channels to customers.

The disputes are often resolved with distributors agreeing to the higher fees, which typically results in higher bills for traditional cable and satellite subscribers.

Dish Network charged Nexstar with the same tactic on Wednesday, accusing the programmer of failing to negotiate in good faith for its 160 local stations and its national channel WGN America, which Dish Network said Nexstar was insistent upon it carrying despite the channel’s historically low ratings.

“We have been working tirelessly to come to a deal that is fair for DISH, Nexstar, and most importantly, our subscribers, but Nexstar is only interested in increasing its own wealth,” Neylon said. “We will not sit by and accept Nexstar’s unreasonable demands. We will continue fighting on behalf of our customers to come to a deal that is beneficial for all.”

In a competing statement, Nexstar asserted it was simply asking Dish Network to pay what it had requested of other pay TV companies in other parts of the country.

“Dish Network continues to propose rates that are less than fair market value for the broadcast network and local market programming content carried by Nexstar’s television stations,” a company spokesperson said. “Since Dish Network’s proposals are not at all in line with the reality of current market rates, Nexstar is left with no choice but to reject any extension of the current agreement.”

Dish Network customers who live in communities with Nexstar-owned stations can still watch the channels for free with an over-the-air antenna. In some markets, Nexstar stations can also be streamed for free via the non-profit service Locast.