A few weeks ago, WIVB-TV (Channel 4) made a major change to its streaming options, decided by its owner, Nexstar Media Group.
As people who’ve cut the cable will no doubt appreciate, the station no longer airs its newscasts live on its website or app. It broadcasts the news programs two hours later.
Which begs the questions: Who wants to watch the 6pm news at 8pm or the 11pm news at 1am? And why is Nextstar doing this?
According to sources, Nexstar’s decision to stop live streaming appears to be largely due to its need to protect the amount of money it receives in the form of retransmission fees from cable companies, satellite providers and other ways of broadcasting its channels.
As the trade journal Broadcasting and Cable put it: “The move comes as broadcast groups like Nexstar seek to increase the retransmission consent fees they charge distributors as cable cutting erodes subscribers to traditional pay-TV services .”
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Broadcasting and Cable added that some Nexstar stations in larger markets like Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco will continue to stream local newscasts live on their station apps.
In a way, Nexstar is compromising with the providers who give them money for retransmissions by delaying the streaming of newscasts by two hours instead of broadcasting them live.
To understand Nexstar’s concerns, recall recent examples of when it was embroiled in retransmission disputes, the WIVB, sister station WNLO-TV (CW 23) and stations it owns across the country from cable and satellite providers have taken.
As I wrote during the local retransmission pauses, many people were still able to see local partners over the air or stream them live even if they couldn’t get them through cable or satellite providers.
During the Nexstar retransmission dispute with Fios last October, which took Channel 4 and CW 23 offline for a couple of weeks, viewers could still stream the newscasts live on the channel’s website or on Paramount+ if they subscribed to that streaming service carries CBS programs.
If you subscribe to Paramount+, Channel 4’s newscasts are still streamed live now, as Nexstar has a separate retransmission agreement with this service.
The ability for viewers to stream local newscasts may have reduced the impact broadcaster groups have had on companies paying retransmission fees in carriage disputes.
The decision to stop live-streaming Channel 4 newscasts likely affects not only people who’ve cut cable locally, but also former West New Yorkers who’ve moved elsewhere, or snowbirds who migrate south for the winter . Viewers who have been live-streaming Channel 4’s newscasts to find out what’s going on in their hometowns can now switch to the channel’s local competitors.
The decision is not without risks. After all, streaming is considered the future of television. In many ways it is the present.
As streaming sites continue to grow in popularity, making it difficult to live stream local news shows seems like a short-sighted decision.
The national owners of the Buffalo stations, which compete with Channel 4 and its newscasts, continue to stream their newscasts live.
The owners of WGRZ-TV (channel 2) and WKBW-TV (channel 7) do so, although they also receive retransmission fee revenue and appear to face the same concerns as Nexstar. Tegna owns Channel 2, the EW Scripps Company owns Channel 7.
“We are and will continue to live stream,” Channel 7 general manager Marc Jaromin wrote in an email. “Investigate the growth associated with TV usage and you will see viewer migrations.”
All you need to know about viewer migration is the drop I’ve reported in local TV ratings, particularly during prime time when it’s rare for a program to get double-digit ratings.
“Yes, WGRZ will continue to stream our local news and other locally produced content live on WGRZ+,” wrote Mark Manders, general manager of WGRZ-TV, in an email. “Our viewers and potential viewers interact across multiple platforms on a daily basis. We want our content to be available to them, wherever they are, whenever they want, on whatever device they choose.”
That appears to be a better strategy than Nexstar’s compromise to satisfy the companies that pay retransmission fees. But time will tell.