April 14, 2024

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Nexstar has been fined $1.2 million by the FCC, potentially losing CW flagship channel WPIX-TV in New York

Nexstar has been fined $1.2 million by the FCC, potentially losing CW flagship channel WPIX-TV in New York

The Federal Communications Commission has determined that local TV giant Nexstar Media Group's acquisition of WPIX-TV in New York in 2020 violates federal restrictions on ownership of the station.

In a ruling issued Thursday (read it here), the regulator ordered Mission Broadcasting, Nexstar's partner in WPIX, to sell the station. If that fails, Nexstar could bring the station under its umbrella and then divest other stations in its portfolio in order to remain under ownership. The FCC also fined the company $1.2 million.

Nexstar responded by pledging to “vigorously” oppose the decision.

WPIX, which went on the air in 1948, became a staple of New York media and became a CW affiliate in 2006. Nexstar, the first owner of American television stations, assumed control of the CW in 2022. It has operated WPIX since 2020 under a local marketing agreement with Mission. Such agreements, often described as “side” deals, have come under scrutiny in recent years amid consolidation that is reshaping the local TV sector, with regulators expressing concern that the agreements could serve as workarounds to entrenched ownership rules.

The FCC said in its ruling that Nexstar appeared to have engaged in an “unauthorized transfer of control” and exceeded the long-standing cap of 39% of U.S. TV households reached by a single owner.

Nexstar CEO Perry Sock said in a statement that the company is “deeply disappointed” by the FCC's decision “and we intend to vigorously object to it.”

He continued: The regulatory body was misled by the often distracting noise in the media environment, and it completely misjudged the facts. The truth is that Nexstar has always adhered to FCC regulations.

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Nexstar's acquisition of WPIX, and the local marketing agreement was approved by the FCC in 2020, when WPIX-TV was purchased by Mission, Sook said. “Nexstar believes that co-operating, shared service and local marketing agreements such as the one in which it is participating are vitally important to maintaining a competitive media market and to enabling broadcasters to continue investing in the local news, investigative journalism and other services they uniquely provide to the communities in which they are located.”

Comcast filed a complaint about ownership of WPIX. “After a comprehensive examination, the FCC finds that Nexstar is clearly in violation of FCC rules and orders and controls WPIX,” the company said in a statement. We would like to thank the Commission for properly attributing ownership of WPIX to Nexstar and ending the fiction that the station was ever independent once Mission became the licensee.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel noted that companies are prohibited from owning or controlling broadcast stations that reach more than 39% of the national television audience.

“The record here reflects a situation in which the company exceeds this threshold,” she said in a statement. “Unless Congress changes this law, it is this agency’s responsibility to enforce it.”

Brendan Carr, one of the two Republicans on the committee, issued a supportive statement. “It is troubling to me that the FCC is citing as evidence of control features of a relationship that the FCC previously signed off on,” he said. “We need to be careful not to undermine reasonable reliance on prior FCC decisions.”

He said he “will keep an open mind as the FCC reviews the record in response to this document. Part of that will require the FCC to ensure that any remedies the agency finds necessary are those that are appropriate given the procedural position of this enforcement action.”

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