Claiming that it could wind up losing carriage of 19 TV stations in systems with 595,000 subscribers if a retransmission-consent fight spreads, Cox Communications Inc. asked the Federal Communications Commission to require two broadcasters to sit down immediately and negotiate.
In a 43-page emergency complaint filed Thursday, Cox alleged that both Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc. and Mission Broadcasting Inc. are violating their legal duty to engage in “good-faith” efforts to reach retransmission-consent deals for several stations that the broadcasters have pulled from the cable operator.
The action also asks the FCC to take measures to restore Cox’s carriage of the two stations, which it already had to drop, “pending resolution of all issues between the parties.”
Effective Jan. 1, Cox was forced to pull the signals of NBC affiliate KRBC in Abilene, Texas, and CBS affiliate KLST in San Angelo, Texas. KLST is owned by Nexstar, which also manages KRBC for Mission.
“If the commission condones the tactics and collective demands of Nexstar and Mission, acting together, then Nexstar has made it clear through its words and actions that this dispute will spread to all Nexstar and Mission television stations in markets where Cox operates cable systems, which would encompass a total of 19 stations and over 595,000 Cox subscribers,” the complaint said.
The ongoing Nexstar retransmission-consent dispute involves Cable One Inc., as well as Cox. That Phoenix-based MSO had to stop carrying NBC affiliate KTAL in Texarkana, Texas, as well as ABC affiliate KODE and NBC affiliate KSNF in Joplin, Mo., as of Jan. 1. Nexstar, which denied any FCC violations, manages KODE for Mission.
Cox said that if its issues with Nexstar aren’t resolved, it will also have to delete the signals for the stations Cable One had to drop, KODE and KSNF in Joplin and KTAL in Texarkana.
Nexstar also claimed that Cox doesn’t have approval to carry another Mission station it manages, KSAN-TV in San Angelo. Cox maintained that its retransmission-consent deal for that NBC affiliate doesn’t expire until Dec. 31 of this year, while Nexstar contended that the pact expired as of Dec. 31, 2004.
Cox’s FCC complaint charged that on Dec. 30, Nexstar informed the MSO in writing that it wanted to terminate outstanding retransmission-consent agreements for all Nexstar and Mission stations carried by Cox, and that it was seeking monthly per-subscriber license fees of 30 cents-40 cents for all of those stations.
Cox also claimed that Nexstar wants it to purchase $75,000 in advertising on all 19 Nexstar and Mission stations the MSO carries.
“In short, Nexstar and Mission have demanded that Cox pay in excess of $8.9 million for the privilege of continuing to retransmit the broadcast signals of five television stations that are free over-the-air in these communities,” the Cox complaint said.
“To Cox’s knowledge, no national cable MSO pays cash for the retransmission of any Nexstar or Mission television signal, let alone the ludicrous demand that Cox agree to amend current long-term retransmission-consent contracts with escalating rates,” the complaint continued.
Cox also charged that Nexstar has “de facto television duopolies throughout the country” since it manages Mission stations in several DMAs where it also owns TV stations, such as Joplin, Abilene and San Angelo.
So the complaint alleged that Nexstar and Mission “have colluded and conspired improperly with respect to the carriage of their stations by Cox.”
Nexstar chief operating officer Duane Lammers said Thursday that he hasn’t seen Cox’s FCC complaint yet. But he added that he’s carefully checked FCC regulations regarding good-faith negotiations and that Nexstar isn’t in violation.
“We believe the fact that we have existing agreements with other providers [satellite and cable] within the markets that Cox serves is going to be the most relevant point,” Lammers said.
Officials at Mission couldn’t be reached for comment.