WASHINGTON — In a decision that could give Time Warner Cable more leverage in future retransmission-consent negotiations, a federal court has provided legal backing for its importation of Nexstar Broadcasting network affiliates into markets where it is at odds with local stations.
Judge Jorge Solis of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas last week denied Nexstar’s request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Time Warner Cable. The denial was a signal that Nexstar is unlikely to win its suit charging TWC with importing the signals of three of its stations — NBC affiliates WBRE in Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Pa., and CBS affiliate WTWO in Terre Haute, Ind., and WROC-TV in Rochester, N.Y. — without permission, to substitute for Hearst Broadcasting-owned stations that went dark this summer in a retrans dispute.
Hearst and Time Warner Cable settled their 10-day dispute, which involved 13 stations across the U.S., in July, not long after the lawsuit and restraining- order request were filed, rendering the action essentially moot. But Nexstar had charged TWC with copyright infringement, and the decision suggests the MSO is free to import those Nexstar signals again during future retrans impasses.
Time Warner Cable had no comment. But the American Television Alliance, which has been pushing the FCC to reform retransmission consent, called it “a victory for television viewers.” It characterized the distant-signal importation as an effort by TWC to “to minimize disruption to its subscribers.”
TWC is a member of the alliance, along with numerous other cable, satellite and phone companies that have to negotiate carriage deals with broadcasters.
Nexstar filed its suit and temporary restraining order in July. The cable operator claimed it had done nothing wrong, and Solis appeared to agree.
In the Sept. 7 ruling, Solis said that nowhere does Nexstar’s retransmission-consent agreement with TWC contain a geographical limitation on that consent, although it does contain a geographical limitation when it comes to TWC’s carriage obligations of those stations in their local markets.
Given that one part of the contract contains those geographical limitations, Solis ruled, Nexstar was familiar with that language, thus its omission in the retransmission-consent portion must be presumed to have been on purpose. Therefore, the court-said, the retransmission- consent agreement (RCA) does not limit TWC’s ability to retransmit the signals to any particular region.
Another section of the contract permits TWC to discontinue out-of-market transmissions, implying that TWC has such a right, according to the court; otherwise the limitation would be superfluous.
“Since the court found that it does not appear that Time Warner breached the RCA, Nexstar has not demonstrated that it will succeed on its copyright claims,” the court ruled. “Accordingly, Nexstar’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction is denied.”
Nexstar had no comment on the judge’s decision, but is expected to appeal it.
A federal court may have given Time Warner Cable more leverage over some network affiliates during retransmissionconsent impasses.