Nexstar and DIRECTV have agreed to temporarily bring back nearly 160 local ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC stations back to the satellite TV provider, ending a blackout that has spanned three months.
“In recognition and appreciation of the continued patience of DIRECTV customers and Nexstar viewers, the companies have agreed to temporarily return the signals of the Nexstar-owned television stations and national cable news network NewsNation to DIRECTV, DIRECTV STREAM, and U-verse while we both work to complete the terms of an agreement,” the companies said in a joint statement on Sunday morning.
The agreement temporarily puts a halt to a bitter fight and one of the longest TV programming blackouts in history, with DIRECTV customers unable to access many of their local channels since July. It’s just the latest blackout to hit — Disney and Charter resolved their own high-profile dispute earlier this week — as these fights over the value of content have grown to be a more common occurrence.
The key word, however, is “temporarily.” This means the companies have yet to agree to an actual distribution agreement. On Friday, DIRECTV said the two sides had made “significant progress,” but said it couldn’t agree to Nexstar’s demand that it agree to pay the same rates to companies that it may acquire down the line. A Nexstar spokesman disputed this claim.
Because of the large number of stations that are offline, DIRECTV will be working to get service back up on a station-by-station basis, with the goal of getting stations showing Sunday afternoon and evening football games first.
As with all of these fights, DIRECTV accused Nexstar of asking for unwarranted price increases, while Nexstar argued it was just seeking fair value for its programming. When the two couldn’t come to terms for an agreement, they walked away in early July, leaving customers on DIRECTV, DIRECTV STREAM and U-Verse stuck in the middle.
The dispute has only grown bitter over the last few months, with both sides accusing each other of sabotaging the talks. DIRECTV filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, asking the agency to investigate Nexstar over the blackouts, and sued the company, alleging collusion with two other local broadcasting companies. DIRECTV’s alleged that “Nexstar Media Group continues to violate federal antitrust law by engaging in an illegal conspiracy with Mission Broadcasting and White Knight Broadcasting to manipulate, raise and fix prices of retransmission consent fees.” The satellite TV provider said Nexstar is sports “hostage.”
Nexstar accused DIRECTV of “manufacturing the blackout,” and misleading subscribers over the nature of the fight.
But in the last few days, there seemed to be hints of a resolution. Longtime Nexstar executive Tom Carter, who in August said he was stepping down as president and chief operating officer to serve as a senior advisor to the CEO, earlier this week said, “We’ve been in constant contact the last several weeks and progress has been made.”
The issue of blackouts played a prominent role in a Wednesday House Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing titled, “Lights, Camera, Subscriptions: State of the Video Marketplace,” which discussed the state of streaming. A number of lawmakers asked about what could be done to prevent further blackouts, and what kinds of changes in the marketplace could better protect consumers.
Representative Anna Eshoo, a Democrat from California, said it’s up to Congress to fix the blackout problem.
“It’s totally unfair,” she said. “It’s a took of negotiation by people who think of themselves as innovators.”