Just before the start of the weekend, hundreds of local websites owned or operated by Nexstar Media Group posted a warning to viewers: DirecTV might soon drop your favorite station.
The prediction came true on Sunday when DirecTV was forced to pull more than 200 Nexstar-owned or operated ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and CW affiliates across the country, including New York area CW affiliate WPIX (Channel 11), which Nexstar operates through a shared services agreement with Mission Broadcasting.
A link at the top of the WPIX website sends viewers to a Nexstar-owned webpage, which explains the situation and encourages viewers to switch providers if they want to watch the channel again. A helpful tool allows viewers to enter their zip code and see a list of other cable and satellite companies that supposedly offer WPIX programming.
Surprisingly, one suggest that comes back is Dish Network, DirecTV’s main satellite rival, which hasn’t offered WPIX since earlier this year.
The reason for the glitch is simple: Nexstar didn’t make a specific web page for each of the 200-plus stations dropped by DirecTV over the weekend. Instead, it created just five pages that are centered around the core network affiliates — ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and CW Network — and linked to those pages from their local websites, depending on which affiliate was affected.
Nexstar made exceptions for WGN-TV and KTLA, two of its biggest local television stations, but not WPIX, which simply links to the generic CW Network affiliate page. The move was surprising, given that WPIX is the biggest television station by market reach in Nexstar’s portfolio of owned and operated stations.
It wasn’t entirely clear why Nexstar decided to link WPIX viewers to the generic CW page, or if it realized that, by doing so, it was wrongly telling viewers they could find WPIX programming on Dish. Gary Weitman, Nexstar’s main spokesperson, has refused to return emails from The Desk seeking comment and clarification over the last few weeks.
Dish and DirecTV each accuse Nexstar of demanding more money in exchange for the privilege of providing their local stations to viewers. Nexstar doesn’t deny this, claiming that what is being asked for is more than fair.
In the Dish dispute, Nexstar forced the satellite company to drop dozens of local stations owned by Mission Broadcasting and White Knight Broadcasting in January. Nexstar operates the stations through “shared services agreements” with the two companies, which allows Nexstar to control nearly every aspect of the stations without actually claiming ownership to them.
In March, DirecTV sued Nexstar in federal court, arguing that the company’s control of Mission and White Knight violated federal regulations. Under the law, no one broadcaster is allowed to own stations that reach more than 38 percent of the country’s television viewing audience; DirecTV alleges that Nexstar’s control of the Mission and White Knight outlets gives it around 70 percent reach.
DirecTV also takes issue with how Nexstar operates the stations — specifically, that it negotiates carriage agreements on behalf of Mission and White Knight, and tries to lump those stations in with around 160 that it owns outright. Nexstar says it follows all federal laws, and has denied any wrongdoing.
The antitrust lawsuit filed by DirecTV could give it added leverage in the carriage dispute sparked over the weekend, in that Nexstar could ultimately decide to drop the request for more money if it settles the pending court case. It isn’t entirely clear if that is where things are headed, but a spokesperson for DirecTV says it is still continuing good faith negotiations to get Nexstar channels back on its platform.