Nexstar's Sook Believes CBS Retrans Battle Could Help Station Groups

Perry Sook, the CEO of station group Nexstar, says he expects CBS to land game-changing rates in its negotiations with Time Warner Cable (TWC) that could trickle down to other station groups.

“Whether CBS gets its (aim) or not ... I anticipate they will set a new high watermark for station compensation,” he said on an investor call last week.

CBS and TWC have been embroiled in a standoff regarding retransmission consent payments, bringing blackouts for CBS-owned stations in TWC homes in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and other markets.

“I'll just say that I would be happy to draft behind CBS just about any time,” Sook said.

Nexstar, he said, has not had any blackouts in its carriage negotiations with distributors since 2005, but “I respect those that do. Who knows what we might have to do in the future to emphasize the point that we need to be negotiated with fairly.”

Meanwhile, attention remained focused on the CBS-TWC battle as the FCC acting chairperson Mignon Clyburn indicated she might get involved in trying to arrive at a solution.

On Monday, Joe Young, general counsel of cable operator Mediacom, wrote Clyburn’s office saying the FCC has been negligent in looking to reform the retransmission consent process. He said the FCC under previous leaders has essentially sat on the sidelines and just hoped blackouts wouldn’t occur -- and if they did, would be resolved swiftly.

The FCC, Young wrote, has hidden behind a “cloak of powerlessness” and followed a “five-step plan” in the face of blackouts. First: “pray that shutoffs do not occur (at least in the major markets that powerful senators and representatives care about”). Second: if a blackout causes a major stir, “put out a press release” saying the FCC is “monitoring the situation and telephone the two parties to remind them of their obligation to negotiate in good faith.” Third:  hope that “somehow, everything will work out.” Fourth: put out a press release welcoming the settlement when it occurs, after “the distributor surrenders in the face of subscriber losses it cannot stem because it is prohibited from importing an alternative signal” and “even though consumers wind up paying much more without getting anything new or additional in return.” Fifth: “resume praying that another major shutoff does not occur.”

In his letter, Young concluded by urging Clyburn to order a reevaluation of the retrans consent process involving FCC attorneys, academics, broadcasters and distributors.

Even with the comments from FCC acting head Clyburn regarding the CBS-TWC morass and the potential for the commission to act, it still appears as if the agency is "hiding under the cloak of powerlessness and doing nothing more than jawboning and warning the parties to obey the toothless rules on good-faith negotiation, which are simply irrelevant when it comes to dealing with the main problems of blackouts and escalating prices," says Young.

Mediacom CEO Rocco Commisso has advocated for government action to slow the rising costs of content for distributors. 



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