Nexstar Fined $1.2M By FCC & Could Lose Control Of CW Flagship WPIX-TV In New York; Company Vows To Fight Ruling “Vigorously”

The Federal Communications Commission has determined that local TV giant Nexstar Media Group’s takeover of WPIX-TV in New York in 2020 violated federal limits on station ownership.

In a ruling issued Thursday (read it here), the regulatory agency ordered Mission Broadcasting, Nexstar’s partner in WPIX, to sell the station. Failing that, Nexstar could put the station under its umbrella and then shed other stations in its portfolio in order to remain under the ownership cap. The FCC also fined the company $1.2 million.

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Nexstar responded by vowing to “vigorously” dispute the decision.

WPIX, which went on the air in 1948, has been a fixture in New York media and became an affiliate of The CW in 2006. Nexstar, the No. 1 owner of U.S. TV stations, acquired control of The CW in 2022. The company has operated WPIX since 2020 under a local marketing agreement with Mission. Such agreements, often described as “sidecar” deals, have come under scrutiny in recent years amid consolidation reshaping the local TV sector, with regulators expressing concern that the pacts can serve as workarounds to long-established ownership rules.

Nexstar appeared to engage in “an unauthorized transfer of control” and broke through the longtime cap of 39% of U.S. TV households reached by a single owner, the FCC said in its ruling.

Nexstar CEO Perry Sook said in a statement that the company was “extremely disappointed” by the FCC’s decision, “and we intend to dispute it vigorously.”

The regulatory agency, he continued, “has been misled by the often-distracting noise in the media ecosphere and that it has completely misjudged the facts. The facts are that Nexstar has always complied with FCC regulations.”

Nexstar’s acquisition of WPIX, Sook said, and the local marketing agreement were approved by the FCC in 2020, when WPIX-TV was purchased by Mission. “Nexstar believes that joint operating, shared service and local marketing agreements like those in which it is engaged are vitally important to maintain a competitive media marketplace and to enable broadcasters to continue investing in local news, investigative journalism and other services that they uniquely provide to the communities in which they are located.”

Comcast had filed a complaint over the WPIX ownership. In a statement, the company said, “After a thorough examination, the FCC found that Nexstar is in clear violation of FCC rules and orders, and controls WPIX.  We’d like to thank the Commission for correctly attributing the ownership of WPIX to Nexstar and ending the fiction that the station was ever independent once Mission became its 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 where a company exceeds this threshold,” she said in a statement. “Unless and until Congress changes this law, it is the responsibility of this agency to enforce it.”

Brendan Carr, one of two Republicans on the commission, issued a concurring statement. “It is concerning to me that the FCC cites as evidence of control those features of the relationship that the FCC previously signed off on,” he said. “We need to be careful that we do not undermine reasonable reliance on prior FCC decisions.”

He said that he would “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 ones that are appropriate given the procedural posture of this enforcement action.”

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