It’s been a month since KLAS-TV, Channel 8, was removed from DirecTV as the result of a contract dispute, and here’s what’s new:
There’s been no back-and-forth in the media between the two sides. There isn’t even an indication that negotiations are taking place.
Buckle up, because it feels like this could last awhile.
The local CBS affiliate was taken off DirecTV services on July 2 after the company was unable to reach a new distribution deal with Channel 8’s owner, Nexstar Media Group. The Irving, Texas-based Nexstar is the largest owner of local TV stations in the country, with 159 stations in 113 markets representing each of the major networks. None can currently be found on DirecTV.
What’s behind the dispute?
At the heart of the dispute are retransmission fees, the money local stations charge cable and satellite providers to air the same content that’s available for free on apps or over the air via an antenna.
“Nexstar has a long track record of forcing programming outages in an effort to unnecessarily raise prices for everyone at the expense of the communities they are licensed and entrusted to serve,” Rob Thun, chief content officer of DirecTV, said in a July 2 statement, the company’s only public comment on the matter. “We will continue to work with Nexstar to reach an agreement and will take all necessary actions to provide our customers access to their favorite programming while protecting them from unwarranted price increases.”
The same day, Nexstar issued its only news release about the dispute, noting that the company had “successfully completed agreements with more than 500 distribution partners” in the past three years. “Nexstar remains hopeful that a resolution can be reached quickly to return to viewers their favorite network programming, live sporting events, in-depth local news, and other local content relevant to their communities, as well as critical emergency updates for which DirecTV is charging its subscribers.”
It’s the third time Channel 8 has gone dark for some local viewers since it was acquired by Nexstar in 2015. In early 2016, a dispute between Nexstar and Cox Communications resulted in Channel 8 being knocked off the local cable system for five days and threatened access to Super Bowl 50. A disagreement between Nexstar and DirecTV in 2019 kept the channel away from local subscribers from July 3 till the end of August.
So why does this one feel different? For starters, it’s no secret that, aside from sports, broadcast network ratings have been in a free fall for years. In May, media research firm SVB MoffettNathanson reported that 2.3 million Americans cut the cord during the first quarter of 2023, dropping the percentage of households that subscribe to cable, satellite and internet TV providers to 58.5 percent, the lowest rate since 1992.
Most retransmission contracts cover four years, making this possibly the last big deal for each side, adding to their resolve.
There’s also little impetus for a deal given the ongoing writers and actors strikes. With no end in sight for either of those, the broadcast networks already have ceded their fall seasons.
Between them, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC will air 31 hours a week of game shows, dating shows, talent contests and reality competitions. The CW, which Nexstar acquired a 75 percent stake in last fall, is countering with three Canadian comedies, two Canadian dramas, a British comedy and an eight-episode German series about something from the depths of the sea that’s threatening humankind.
The next big reason for viewers to seek out broadcast TV comes Aug. 26 with the return of college football. The NFL’s regular season kicks off Sept. 7.
There’s no telling, though, whether that will be enough to get DirecTV and Nexstar back to the bargaining table.
Dish Network, DirecTV’s chief satellite competitor, dropped Cox Media Group’s stations in nine markets — including Atlanta, Boston, Pittsburgh and Seattle — on Nov. 28, and they still haven’t returned. In another lengthy standoff, HBO and Cinemax were absent from Dish from November 2018 to July 2021.