Policy

Mediacom Prepares for Sinclair Battle

11/29/2006 1:19 PM Eastern

Bracing for the worse, Mediacom Communications is preparing alternative programming and has antennas ready for subscribers in the event that it loses carriage of 22 Sinclair Broadcast Group stations Dec. 1 due to a retransmission-consent dispute.

“They’re making it very difficult, in my opinion, to strike a deal,” Mediacom chairman and CEO Rocco Commisso said Wednesday during a press-conference call on the looming battle, adding later, “You have to decide for yourself who the greedy outfit is here.”

Mediacom outlined the offer it has put on the table in the past week to Sinclair to try to avoid the broadcaster’s stations going dark this week. According to Commisso, the cable operator increased the compensation it offered to carry Sinclair’s stations by 33%; said it would agree to have the dispute go to binding arbitration; and gave the broadcaster the option of providing its TV stations a la carte to Mediacom customers.

Mediacom officials also said they would take the same retransmission-consent deals that other cable operators, such as Comcast and Insight Communications, have struck with Sinclair, to no avail.

As of Wednesday, it appeared that only an emergency order from the Federal Communications Commission, which Mediacom is seeking, will prevent Sinclair from pulling the signals for its stations.

Sinclair issued a press release Wednesday that said it doesn’t expect to reach a retransmission-consent deal with Mediacom and, therefore, it expects its stations to be off the cable company’s lineup at 12:01 a.m. Friday. If it happens, roughly 700,000 Mediacom subscribers, one-half of its customer base, will be impacted, Commisso said.

If the stations go off, Mediacom has been making plans to offer alternative programming in their former channel slots. The cable operator has been talking with other local broadcasters in the affected markets about getting local news from them to run, for example.

Mediacom may also replace the dropped Sinclair stations with updates on the dispute, digital channels, or entertainment programming, such as previews of new cable networks, according to officials.

Mediacom will also have antennas at its offices to hand out to customers, but it declined to say how many of those devices it has ready to pass out.

In some cities, Mediacom is carrying Sinclair stations “out of market” in locations where other broadcasters have rights to those areas, and Mediacom is talking with those broadcasters to “to come into those territories,” officials said.

During the Mediacom call, Commisso said that his company has been willing to pay for carriage of Sinclair stations, but the issue remains how much that should be.

The cable operator said it is willing to hold money in escrow -- license fees for Sinclair’s stations -- as negotiations go forward.

At one point Commisso said, “Never, in 10 years,” had a TV station gone black on his cable systems.

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