The issue comes as DirecTV and Nexstar are locked into a weeks-long carriage dispute that has left millions of satellite and streaming customers without access to one or more ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC or CW Network affiliate in large parts of the country.
Nexstar purchased a 75 percent stake in the CW Network last year, with former owners Paramount Global and Warner Bros Discovery each holding a 12.5 percent stake in the venture. Sinclair, which competes with Nexstar in several markets, operates 21 CW Network affiliates in various parts of the country.
About a week after Nexstar’s dispute with DirecTV began, Nexstar reportedly ordered Sinclair, Inc. to withhold all CW Network programming on 21 local broadcast stations that are available via DirecTV Stream. Sinclair ultimately complied with the edict, telling DirecTV it needed to black out the CW Network programming block on its affiliated stations that are offered through DirecTV Stream. The order also extends to stations that not owned by Sinclair, but which are operated by the company through local marketing agreements, including affiliates licensed to Cunningham Broadcasting, Deerfield Media, GoCom and MPS Media.
The issue was first reported to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a letter sent by DirecTV Senior Vice President Stacy Fuller, a copy of which was obtained by The Desk early Tuesday morning. The letter was submitted in the FCC docket that concerns the agency’s proposed rule for the adoption of a definition concerning the term “MVPD,” or multi-video programming distributor, which the agency began exploring in late 2014.
DirecTV says it has ultimately complied with the request to block CW Network programming, including LIV Golf events, on Sinclair-owned affiliates. Some of the stations impacted by the programming blackout include:
- KFRE (Channel 59) in Fresno, California
- KOCB (Channel 34) in Oklahoma City
- KVCW (Channel 33) in Las Vegas
- WCWF (Channel 14) in Green Bay
- WCWN (Channel 45) in Albany, New York
- WHAM (Channel 13-2) in Rochester
- WNUV (Channel 54) in Baltimore
- WTTO (Channel 21) in Birmingham, Alabama
- WUCW (Channel 23) in Minneapolis
- WVTV (Channel 18) in Milwaukee
- WWHO (Channel 53) in Columbus, Ohio
DirecTV says Nexstar’s decision to block CW Network programming on Sinclair-owned stations has increased the number of current or prospective customers who are now impacted by a partial or total blackout of network programming. When including the Sinclair stations, around 73 percent of U.S. households have now lost some or all programming on one or more network affiliates if they subscribe to DirecTV Stream, the company said in its letter.
“Nexstar, in other words, has sought to expand its retransmission consent dispute to the online market,” Fuller wrote. “And it is doing so at the expense of a rival broadcaster—Sinclair, which had negotiated a valid carriage agreement with DirecTV.”
Officials at Sinclair did not return a request for comment. Gary Weitman, a Nexstar executive who handles media relations and public communications, does not return email messages from The Desk.
Earlier this year, DirecTV filed a lawsuit against Nexstar alleging its operational control of stations licensed to Mission Broadcasting and White Knight Broadcasting violated federal ownership rules imposed by Congress and the FCC. DirecTV also complained that Nexstar’s negotiation of carriage agreements on behalf of Mission and White Knight stations was part of a concerted and illegal effort to fix distribution-related prices.
Nexstar responded to the lawsuit by saying it complies with all federal ownership rules and other laws regarding the operations of its broadcast stations, including those it manages under shared services agreements with Mission and White Knight.