Nexstar Stations And WGN America Go Dark On Dish Network

Nexstar Media Group TV stations in 120 markets and 42 states as well as WGN America nationwide have gone dark on Dish Network platforms after days of negotiations between the companies failed to yield a deal.

In all, 164 stations are offline. In 2019, Nexstar became the largest owner of local stations in the U.S. when it acquired Tribune Media. WGN America also changed hands in that deal.

About 5.4 million Dish customers are being hit by the carriage impasse. Nexstar’s station portfolio now includes top markets like LA, Chicago and New York as well as dozens of other cities. Dish has about 9 million traditional satellite subscribers and another 2.5 million on its internet pay-TV bundle Sling TV.

“Dish is refusing to reach a new distribution agreement allowing the satellite television behemoth the right to continue airing Nexstar’s highly-rated programming,” Nexstar said in a statement after the impasse at 7PM ET.

“We made a fair offer to keep Nexstar stations available to our customers, but Nexstar rejected it,” said Brian Neylon, Group President, Dish TV. “Earlier today, we offered to extend the current contract and hold subscribers harmless while negotiations continue … but Nexstar never responded. 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.”

Neylon also said Nexstar is “demanding” more than $1 billion to carry fees for stations that are available for free over the air. In past situations involving broadcast outlets, such as a 2019 impasse with Univision, Dish has provided antennas to customers, enabling them to get programming without Dish equipment.

“This shocking increase is the largest we have ever seen,” Neylon added. “While we work to keep subscribers’ TV bills as low as possible, Nexstar has no problem passing the buck on to American consumers. It has turned its back on its public interest obligation and is demanding significantly more money for the same programming.”

In its statement, Nexstar maintained, “Dish 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. Dish also continues to exclude WGN America from its proposals. Since Dish 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.”

Tensions between the parties heading toward Wednesday evening deadline bubbled to the surface last week, with the finger-pointing and name-calling that are customary in carriage disputes.

On Tuesday, a Nexstar rep told Deadline that talks were continuing and “we remain hopeful of reaching an amicable deal at fair market rates, just as we have with all of our other large satellite, cable and telco providers.”

Nexstar announced a distribution agreement on Tuesday with YouTube TV for WGN America, boosting its reach to about 75 million U.S. homes. Once known for prestige dramas like Underground, the network has pivoted to news. Its weeknight primetime slot is taken up by NewsNation, a block aiming to be a straightforward presentation of the stories of the day, in a timeslot known for opinion fare on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

Dish has long driven hard bargains in distribution talks. It has parted ways recently with major content providers like the Sinclair-run regional sports networks as well as HBO. In a bare-knuckled statement issued on Thanksgiving Day, the company called Nexstar a “broadcast giant” aiming to “use its market power to demand unreasonable rate increases while intentionally using millions of Americans as pawns in their negotiations.”

The company’s stance on carriage talks has been further toughened by chairman Charlie Ergen’s steering of the longtime satellite player toward the telecom business. After Dish acquired considerable spectrum holdings in recent years, it became the No. 4 U.S. wireless player after acquiring assets divested by Sprint and T-Mobile when those companies merged earlier this year.

Texas-based Nexstar paid $4.1 billion for Tribune. The deal capped a series of deals that vaulted the company to No. 1 among all station groups, a remarkable rise for a company that started in 1996 with a single radio station in Scranton, PA.

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