Comcast urges FCC to take action in retrans dispute with Nexstar, Mission Broadcasting

Comcast is in the midst of a retransmission consent dispute with Nexstar Media Group and Mission Broadcasting, with Mission-owned WPIX station recently going dark in the cable operator’s New York City market. Now, Comcast is accusing Nexstar and Mission of failing to complete negotiations in good faith.

In a Monday filing to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Comcast stated it was forced to drop WPIX on December 3 so that it can continue carrying other Mission stations, adding this move resulted from Nexstar and Mission’s “negotiating tactics.”

Essentially, Comcast argued Mission withheld its retransmission renewal for WPIX, demanding Comcast to instead carry the station under a deal with Nexstar. Additionally, Nexstar is "threatening to withhold" its other stations in Comcast's footprint, unless Comcast agrees to carry WPIX under a new Nexstar agreement.

“Defendants [Nexstar and Mission] outright rejected any reasonable proposal to put the substantial legal questions over WPIX aside,” Comcast said in the filing. “Instead, Defendants jointly have held continued carriage of their more than 100 other stations for nearly nine million consumers hostage, using a single station as ransom.”

All told, Comcast requested the FCC issue an order that would direct Nexstar and Mission to "commence good faith negotiations" with Comcast or convince the parties to agree to a standstill, so that Comcast may continue carrying WPIX in the meantime.

The partially redacted document went on to say Mission “refused to engage in any negotiations” for WPIX in the weeks leading up to the station blackout.

Additionally, Comcast said Nexstar waited 17 days – including nearly a week after WPIX went dark – before responding to Comcast’s first renewal counterproposal and standstill offer. Nexstar proceeded to “flatly reject” the operator’s standstill offer.

The WPIX dispute goes back to July 2021, when Comcast petitioned the FCC to rule that Nexstar should be attributed ownership of WPIX. As reported by TV Tech, even though Nexstar sold WPIX to Mission in 2020, Comcast argued Nexstar still maintains control of the station – thus violating the FCC’s 39% cap on broadcast national ownership.

WPIX is the largest CW affiliate station in the country. Nexstar this fall scooped up a 75% ownership stake in The CW Network, aiming to boost the network’s low ratings over the next few years.

While Comcast and Nexstar duke it out over WPIX, the parties are also battling to reach a new carriage agreement that would avert a blackout of 90 Nexstar stations across Comcast’s footprint. Neither party has disclosed when the current agreement expires, but according to NextTV, Comcast and Nexstar signed their current deal on December 31, 2019.

As tension escalates between Nexstar and Comcast, Mission is undergoing a retrans dispute of its own with DirecTV. In October, 25 Mission stations (as well as two White Knight Broadcasting stations) were pulled from DirecTV across 21 markets.

Mission and White Knight later rejected DirecTV’s request to temporarily restore the stations through the 2022 midterms. The pay TV provider alleged Nexstar had a hand in the negotiations, though Nexstar stated to Fierce Video it “does not control any of these television stations.”

Earlier that month, Nexstar faced a retransmission spat with Verizon, which caused Verizon Fios customers to experience a two-week blackout of Nexstar-owned stations. The parties were able to reach a new agreement for 13 local TV stations as well as Nexstar’s national cable news network NewsNation.