Retrans, HD Complaints Reach Feds

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Two separate retransmission-consent disputes landed in front of the Federal Communications Commission last week, including a nearly monthlong standoff that’s left Cox Communications Inc. and Cable One Inc. without five TV stations so far — and could spread.

Cox went to the mat and filed an emergency complaint with the FCC, alleging that Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc. and Mission Broadcasting Inc. should be compelled to come to the bargaining table and negotiate new retransmission-consent deals in “good faith.”

If the FCC doesn’t step in, Cox claims the retransmission-consent battle might spread and it could wind up losing carriage of 19 TV stations in systems with 595,000 subscribers.

HD-EXCLUSIVE CLAIM

And in an unrelated retransmission-consent spat, Horry Telephone Cooperative Inc. also filed an emergency complaint with the FCC charging that WFXB, a Fox affiliate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., is violating federal rules by offering its HDTV feed to Time Warner Cable on an exclusive basis.

As a result officials at HTC, which competes head-to-head with Time Warner Cable in parts of its franchise area, say they won’t be able to offer the Super Bowl in HDTV.

Federal rules bar broadcasters from signing exclusive retransmission-consent deals. Time Warner officials declined to comment last week, but the FCC wants a response from the station by Monday, Jan. 24.

Cox’s dispute with Nexstar and Mission is almost a month old. Effective Jan. 1, Cox was forced to pull the signals of NBC affiliate KRBC in Abilene 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.

Cable One is in the middle of its own retransmission-consent dispute with Nexstar. The 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 denies any FCC violations, manages KODE for Mission.

“I’m eager to see the result of Cox’s filing,” said Cable One central division vice president Tom Basinger.

Cox says that if its issues with Nexstar aren’t resolved, it will also have to delete the signals for two of the stations that Cable One had to drop — namely KODE and KSNF in Joplin and KTAL in Texarkana.

There’s a sixth station in the mix, too. Nexstar claims Cox doesn’t have approval to carry another Mission station it manages, KSAN-TV in San Angelo, Texas. Cox maintains its retransmission-consent deal for the NBC affiliate doesn’t expire until Dec. 31 this year.

Cox’s FCC complaint charges 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 was seeking monthly per-subscriber license fees of 30 to 40 cents for all of those stations.

Cox also claims Nexstar wants it to purchase $75,000 in advertising on all 19 Nexstar and Mission stations the MSO carries, demanding that the operator “pay in excess of $8.9 million for the privilege of continuing to retransmit the broadcast signals of five televisions stations.”

'LUDICROUS DEMAND’

“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 Cox complaint said.

Nexstar chief operating officer Duane Lammers maintained that Nexstar isn’t in violation of FCC rules regarding good-faith negotiations.

“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,” he said.

Officials at Mission couldn’t be reached for comment.

In its FCC complaint, Cox also charges 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.

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