AT&T vs. Nexstar
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CHAMPAIGN — While representatives of AT&T and Nexstar Broadcasting continue to disagree about the price the cable provider should pay the television station owner to retransmit its signal, DirecTV and U-Verse subscribers in central Illinois are missing out on locally-produced and CBS network programming.

As of midnight Wednesday, DirecTV/AT&T pulled the programming of WCIA and WCIX.

“We’ve had probably, over the last two days, about 100 calls,” WCIA Vice President and General Manager Gary Hackler said Saturday.

“They are wanting clarity and all I can say is we are negotiating. Ultimately, we will come to some sort of a resolution but I’m not sure when,” he said.

Hackler said Nexstar requested an extension of a month on negotiations with AT&T “but that didn’t happen.”

“We felt like we were close enough that the extension would have gotten us to” a resolution, he said.

In press releases posted online, each side finds fault with the other.

“We had hoped to prevent Nexstar from joining GoCom Media of Illinois by pulling WCIA-CBS and WCIX-MNT from our Champaign, Springfield and Decatur customers’ lineups. We offered Nexstar more money to keep WCIA-CBS and WCIX-MNT available, but Nexstar simply said no and elected to remove them instead. Nexstar has chosen to hold our customers in Champaign, Springfield and Decatur hostage and put them into the center of its negotiations,” AT&T’s statement reads.

AT&T/DirecTV has not carried Fox affiliates WRSP and WCCU since the end of May after being unable to agree on retransmission fees with GoCom Media.

“This is the same old Nexstar playbook,” AT&T said. “They pull or threaten to pull their signals from customers of many distributors to increase fees for ‘free TV’ stations that far exceed their value. They’ve done it to Cox Cable, DISH and Charter Spectrum and now to us. GoCom Media recently removed WCCU-FOX, WRSP-FOX and WBUI-CW from our same Champaign, Springfield and Decatur customers’ lineups seeking another substantial rate increase.”

“CBS and FOX and CW broadcast network content aired by WCIA-CBS, WCCU-FOX and WRSP-FOX has lost about half its primetime audience over the past five years. Despite this viewership decline, Nexstar is now demanding the largest increase AT&T has ever seen proposed by any content provider. In addition, Nexstar wants much higher payments for stations and a low-rated cable network they don’t own, as well as carriage commitments and still more fees for channels that don’t even exist,” the statement continues.

Meantime, Irving, Texas-based Nexstar, owner of 174 television stations across the country, said it offered AT&T the same rate it offered other cable providers who carry Nexstar station signals.

“AT&T/DIRECTV is routinely involved in disputes with content providers and following its 2015 acquisition by AT&T, DIRECTV has dropped or threatened to black out network and local community programming from Viacom, SJL Broadcasting/Lilly Broadcasting, and others,” said the Nexstar release.

“Between May 30, 2019, and June 10, 2019, alone, viewers of at least 20 other non-Nexstar stations (owned by Deerfield Media, GoCom Media of Illinois, Howard Stirk Holdings, Mercury Broadcast Group, MPS Media, Nashville License Holdings, Roberts Media, Second Generation of Iowa and Waitt Broadcasting) lost access to network and local content.”

Nexstar pointed to viewers in Bakersfield, Calif., unable to get timely information about the effects of earthquakes that hit southern California on Thursday and Friday, and more in Honolulu bracing for the fallout of Hurricane Barbara in the Pacific Ocean.

In addition to local news, weather and sports, viewers have missed out on Fourth of July specials and stand to miss Sunday night CBS programs including “60 Minutes,” “Instinct” and “The Good Fight.”

Nexstar is encouraging AT&T/DirecTV subscribers to contact AT&T customer service at 855-937-9466.

Callers will first have to listen to an 83-second recorded statement listing more than a dozen CBS affiliates across the country that are currently off the air and a plea for viewers to “demand” that AT&T/DirecTV bring back your local CBS station.

News-Gazette

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Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).