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Nexstar retransmission-consent deals cap busy day on affiliate negotiation front


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Nexstar retransmission-consent deals cap busy day on affiliate negotiation front

Nexstar Media Group Inc. rang out 2019 with five deals that will lift its retransmission-consent revenue well into the new decade.

The nation’s largest operator of TV stations evidently inked pacts on Dec. 31, 2019, with the top two U.S. cable providers, Comcast Corp. and Charter Communications Inc., as well as cable operator Mediacom Communications Corp., Verizon Communications Inc.'s FiOS TV, and telecom provider Frontier Communications Corp.

Pay TV operators pay retransmission-consent fees to broadcasters in exchange for permission to carry local stations' signals. Protracted negotiations related to those fees sometimes lead to channel blackouts if a contract expires before a new one is put in place.

There was also a retransmission-consent renewal involving TEGNA Inc. and Altice USA Inc. on Dec. 31, 2019, as well as carriage extensions tied to stations owned by Hearst Corp. and AT&T Inc.'s DIRECTV, and cable networks owned by Fox Corp. and the National Cable Television Cooperative Inc.

Officials at Comcast, Mediacom and Verizon all confirmed that they have reached retransmission-consent renewals with the nation’s largest station operator.

Sources familiar with the negotiations indicate that Nexstar also came to terms on Tuesday with the nation’s No. 2 cable operator Charter and Frontier ahead of contracts that were also set to expire on Dec. 31, 2019.

Nexstar and Charter both declined comment, while Frontier did not respond to queries by press time.

Distribution agreements

Speaking on a Nov. 6 earnings call, Nexstar Chairman, President and CEO Perry Sook noted that the company at that point had completed new distribution agreements, encompassing approximately one-third of the 70% of its subscriber footprint slated for renewal in 2019. That included the deal it reached in late August with AT&T after a retransmission-consent dispute kept over 120 of its stations in 97 markets off of the DIRECTV and U-verse video platform for almost two months.

Sook on the call said the rate of retrans fee increase will be at its highest in 2020, owing to the level of distribution renewals. Although the retrans stream will be "front-loaded" in 2020, Nexstar executives said the company will still register double-digit gains over the next two to three years, even as "renewals will be more measured" after 2019.

Comcast's Xfinity website had listed nearly 100 stations that were up for contract renewals in December, including KIAH in Houston and KWGN in Denver, plus national cable network WGN America (US), all of which Nexstar added through the purchase of Tribune Media Co., which closed in September.

For its part, TEGNA, which earlier last month reached a new deal with Comcast, inked a renewal with Altice USA on Dec. 31, 2019, ahead of their retransmission-consent pact that was set to conclude at 11:59 p.m. ET. The Altice-TEGNA contract covers 20 stations airing on Suddenlink systems in Texas, Ohio, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Washington, and a pair in Connecticut, running on Optimum systems.

Elsewhere, AT&T's DIRECTV has entered into an extension for continued carriage of 33 Hearst TV stations. Messaging on the stations' websites indicates that the current agreement, which was set to expire at midnight Dec. 31, 2019, has been pushed until 3 p.m. ET on Jan. 2, with the parties continuing to negotiate.

AT&T issued a statement prior to the extension expressing disappointment that Hearst put its customers into the middle of what "ought to remain a private business matter." The company said it remains on the side of consumer choice and value, while Hearst is "known to often withhold its stations to try to increase its fees for free broadcast TV," and hopes to avoid a suspension of service.

On the cable side, Fox Corp.-owned cable networks FOX News Channel (US), FOX Business Network (US), FOX Sports 1 (US) and FOX Sports 2 (US), continue to air on systems represented by the National Cable Television Cooperative. The NCTC operates as a programming and hardware purchasing organization for small and midsize cable and other video providers.

An NCTC spokesman confirmed that the channels remain on its members' air, but did not disclose the status of negotiations.

Fox continues to run a website proffering the same message it had prior to the dawning of 2020: The company offered each participating NCTC member at risk of losing its programming a short-term direct agreement for continued carriage.