Policy

LIN Deal in Place, Mediacom Renews Battle on Retrans

10/24/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

After more than a month of tough negotiations,
Mediacom Communications reached a deal to put 10
LIN Media stations back on the air in seven of its markets
last week, but the small-market operator said its fight against
rising retransmission-consent costs is far from over.

Eight LIN stations in Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin,
Alabama and Indiana went dark on Aug. 31 after the parties
could not reach an agreement on proposed retransmissionrate
increases.

Two more stations were added to the mix on Sept. 6, when
a one-week extension for stations in Norfolk, Va., to allow affected
viewers to continue to receive local news coverage of
Hurricane Irene in that area expired.

LIN pulled Fox affiliates WALA-WFNA in Mobile, Ala.-
Pensacola, Fla.; WOOD (NBC) and WOTV (ABC) in Grand Rapids,
Mich.; WANE (CBS) in Fort Wayne, Ind.; WLUK (Fox) in
Green Bay, Wis.; WTHI (CBS) in Terre Haute, Ind.; and WLFI
(CBS) in Lafayette, Ind., on Aug. 31 at 5 p.m. local time.

Mediacom reached an agreement with LIN that returned
the stations to their customers on Oct. 15. The small-market
MSO did not disclose any details of the agreement.

Mediacom has claimed that LIN asked for increases of 200%
to 300% for its channels, an increase that the MSO said its
customers could not bear. LIN has said it simply asked for an
increase that better reflects its stations’ value.

Whether the blackout resulted in lost customers also remains
to be seen. Mediacom would not comment specifically
of the dispute’s effect on its customer base. LIN had encouraged
viewers in the respective markets to seek an alternative
provider during the blackout.

TERMS NOT RELEASED

“Our industry as a whole, and Mediacom is no
exception, is at a point where it is going to lose
subscribers because the price of video service is
too expensive,” Mediacom group vice president
of legal and public affairs Th omas Larsen said.
“We’re paying too much for programming and
we’re seeing wholesale costs impacting our retail
price. Retrans is a piece of that — it’s the fastest
growing piece of the programming pie — but
this problem is bigger than just retrans. … It’s not
one station, it’s not one network, it’s the whole
package of services.”

Larsen said Mediacom would continue to apply
pressure to the Federal Communications
Commission for retransmission-consent reform
— it used its LIN Media dispute as a catalyst to
point out government inaction on the matter. And
the MSO will have ample opportunity to highlight
other potential disputes down the road — it
has 75 retransmission consent deals with 180 TV
stations coming due at the end of this year.

Mediacom won’t be alone. In calling for further FCC intervention
on the matter, American Cable Association president
Matt Polka noted in a statement last week that its 900
members, mainly small, independent MSOs, have to wrap
up retrans negotiations before Dec. 31 or “face TV station
blackouts on a massive scale.”

DIRECTV DEAL LAPSING

Other potential disputes are brewing — DirecTV’s retrans
agreement with Belo Inc.’s 20 broadcast stations (including
such larger markets as Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Seattle and
Portland, Ore.) expires on Nov. 1, and Dish Network’s retrans
agreement with Reno, Nev., CBS affiliate KTVN is set to expire
“soon.” Neither party would disclose the expiration date of the
deal, but both said that negotiations are ongoing.

Belo, in a statement on its channel websites, said that it has
been negotiating for months with DirecTV, but that if a deal is
not reached its stations could go dark by the end of the month.

In a statement, DirecTV said Belo has decided to notify customers
of its discussions, as it did in retrans negotiations with
Time Warner Cable and Dish Network last year.

“None of those customers ever lost access to Belo stations
and we expect the same positive result here,” DirecTV said
in the statement. “Their TV commercials and messaging are
nothing more than a routine approach to try and gain leverage
in negotiations. Our customers should ignore Belo’s scare
tactics and enjoy their DirecTV service as they always have.”