Making progress in distribution talks, television giants DirecTV and Nexstar Media Group have agreed to restore Nexstar’s broadcast station signals to DirecTV customer homes — ending a bitter blackout that lasted 76 days.
The nationwide blackout of 159 Nexstar-owned stations — which includes ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and CW network affiliates — hit DirecTV products, including the satellite TV service, U-verse and DirecTV Stream. Nexstar’s KTLA-TV Channel 5 also was swept up in the blackout for DirecTV and U-verse customers that began July 2.
The two companies announced the truce early Sunday as they faced the prospect of fuming football fans anticipating the second weekend of the NFL season.
Thousands of football viewers in Indianapolis were anxious about missing their Colts play the Houston Texans on Fox. In Fresno and Buffalo, N.Y., some viewers would have lacked access to CBS’ coverage of the Buffalo Bills and Las Vegas Raiders game. And some fans in Sacramento, San Diego and Honolulu would have missed seeing the Rams take on the San Francisco 49ers in Los Angeles on Fox affiliates.
“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 two companies said Sunday in a statement.
Nexstar, based in Irving, Texas, is the nation’s largest TV station group. It acquired the Tribune Media station portfolio, including KTLA and WGN, nearly five years ago.
The cable news network NewsNation was also part of the outage as well as about 30 television stations that Nexstar manages but are owned by Mission Broadcasting and White Knight Broadcasting.
In July, DirecTV was forced to remove the Nexstar channels from its satellite TV service as well as DirecTV Stream and U-verse because the El Segundo-based company no longer had legal authorization to rebroadcast Nexstar station signals. DirecTV teams worked Sunday to restore the signals after Nexstar granted its permission.
The move comes less than a week after the Walt Disney Co. and Charter Communications reached a new agreement, ending a high-profile 10-day blackout of Disney channels, including ESPN and KABC-TV Channel 7 in Los Angeles, on Charter Spectrum’s television service. That blackout interrupted millions of fans’ viewing of the US Open tennis championships and college football on ESPN.
Channel blackouts have become increasingly common in recent years as TV channel distributors, including DirecTV, Charter Spectrum, Cox Cable and Comcast‘s Xfinity, struggle to hold the line on costs rather than pass stiff increases along to customers in the form of higher bills.
DirecTV and other pay-TV distributors have lost millions of customers to cable cord-cutting in the last decade and they do not want to encourage additional subscribers to flee.
“The video ecosystem is broken,” Charter Communications Chief Executive Christopher Winfrey told analysts earlier this month.
Such concerns prompted Charter to initially balk at Disney’s fee increases during their distribution contract negotiations late last month.
That blackout on Spectrum — which affected millions of customers in New York and Los Angeles — was resolved after Disney compromised by allowing Charter to drop eight Disney cable channels, including Freeform, from its lineup.
TV station owners, including Nexstar, have been seeking fee increases as the cost of programming — particularly NFL football and other sports — skyrocket. Programmers also are grappling with declining ratings and a lower penetration of pay-TV homes, which result in less revenue produced by stations. The television advertising market also has shown signs of weakness.
Broadcast TV ratings have declined nearly 50% from a decade ago.
The troubled economics prompted Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger to suggest that Disney might sell its ABC television network and owned stations.
Late last week, news outlets including The Times reported that Disney has received preliminary interest from potential buyers, including Nexstar.
Disney sought to dampen speculation that it was close to a deal.
“While we are open to considering a variety of strategic options for our linear businesses, at this time the Walt Disney Co. has made no decision with respect to the divestiture of ABC or any other property,” Disney said in a statement Thursday.