Mediacom Communications lost the local broadcast feeds from several local Sinclair Broadcast Group TV stations over the weekend after failing to reach a new retransmission-consent deal with the broadcaster.
And Comcast could be next up, with about 3 million of its subscribers facing the possibility of losing their Sinclair signals March 1.
After Sinclair pulled its local broadcast signals from Mediacom over the weekend, the MSO’s systems in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, ran out of antennas Sunday that the systems are handing out to subscribers whoneed the rabbit ears to get the Sinclair feeds, according to The Des Moines Register.
Mediacom late Saturday reported no progress in the dispute with Sinclair.
“Having heard nothing from Sinclair, we reached out again at 1:30 p.m. [Saturday] afternoon with another request to enter into binding arbitration and a new proposal,” Mediacom executive vice president of operations John Pascarelli said in a prepared statement. “Sinclair rejected our latest offer and again informed us that they were unprepared to enter into arbitration and did not expect to make a decision until after the weekend.”
He added, "Sinclair seems to have no concern for the impact this dispute is having on consumers. While we are giving out free antennas to customers, Sinclair continues to ignore them and disregard the recommendation made in the [Federal Communications Commission's Media Bureau’s] order. This is further evidence of Sinclair’s lack of concern for these markets, as publicly stated by their CEO."
Mediacom senior VP and general counsel Joseph Young added, "In a matter of a few hours, any competent lawyer should be able to come up with a list of conditions with respect to binding arbitration. Anyone taking longer is just stalling."
Mediacom announced late Friday night that refused to extend the cable operator’s right to carry its stations and ordered their removal as of midnight.
Earlier Friday, Mediacom said it planned to appeal to the full FCC with hopes of keeping those outlets from going dark.
During a conference call Friday morning, Mediacom officials also said they were still hoping that Sinclair would finally agree to their request that their ongoing retransmission-consent dispute be submitted to binding arbitration and that the stations stay on in the interim.
However, in the late-Friday announcement, Pascarelli said, “We are certainly dismayed with Sinclair’s inability to commit to our offer of binding arbitration made yesterday -- a solution that was strongly encouraged in the recent order by the FCC’s Media Bureau. Contrary to their statement today that Sinclair had not heard back from Mediacom, further discussions regarding arbitration could not take place this afternoon because according to Barry Faber, Sinclair’s VP and general counsel, Sinclair’s CEO, David Smith, was not available to approve such discussions.”
Pascarelli added, “Because our interim agreement already provides Sinclair with cash compensation, they have nothing to lose by agreeing to continued carriage while the details of the arbitration process are worked out. By ignoring the bureau’s clear encouragement to avoid a disruption in service to consumers, it appears to us that Sinclair is continuing to show its lack of concern for the public interest.”
He concluded, “In light of Sinclair’s decision to pull its stations, we will take this opportunity to provide our customers with quality family entertainment from a variety of our programming partners on the channels previously occupied by the Sinclair stations.”
In his remarks earlier Friday, Mediacom chairman and CEO Rocco Commisso said his company would appeal a ruling Thursday by the FCC’s Media Bureau rejecting its claim that Sinclair was not negotiating in good faith.
Mediacom will seek a ruling on its complaint by the full FCC, according to Commisso.
“Hopefully, [FCC] chairman [Kevin] Martin will provide expedited treatment for our appeal so any disruptions to consumers will be minimized,” Commisso said, adding that the FCC Media Bureau “has ruled badly.”
Mediacom’s current retransmission-consent extension with Sinclair expires at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. At that time, the cable company will lose the right to carry 22 Sinclair stations -- affiliates of Fox, The CW, My Network TV and ABC -- in 12 states.
The total number of Mediacom subscribers who could be affected is 700,000. But the number of Mediacom subscribers who will lose stations affiliated with the major networks, such as Fox, is only about 500,000, according to officials at the company.
“That number [700,000] is dramatically reduced because we’ve been able -- as we’ve done in Iowa City -- to import some Big Four-affiliated programming stations, as permitted by law,” Commisso said.
During the early Friday call, Iowa State Sen. Jeff Angelo (R-District 48) complained about comments Sinclair officials have made about their willingness to sacrifice their stations in Mediacom markets to eventually secure $100 million in retransmission-consent fees.
“As a representative of a large area of Mediacom customers, this is basically economic terrorism and it’s not in the public interest,” Angelo said.
Sinclair couldn’t be reached for comment.
Mediacom extended three new proposals to Sinclair this week, according to Commisso, and each was rejected.
Those new proposals were that Mediacom would pay Sinclair: a weighted-average price that reflects what direct-broadcast satellite, cable and phone companies are paying for retransmission of the broadcaster’s stations; a weighted-average price based on the pacts Sinclair just reached with McLeodUSA and is finalizing with Time Warner Cable; and per-subscriber, per-month price that reflected an increase from Mediacom’s prior offers.
Sinclair turned down those proposals Thursday and “proceeded on increasing their obnoxious demands once they became aware that the Media Bureau was going to rule in their favor,” Commisso said.
Commisso claimed that the FCC Media Bureau’s ruling, as it stands, basically means that broadcasters will be able to extract about $5 billion annually in retransmission-consent fees -- a cost that will be passed on to consumers and raise cable rates.
“The egregious demands by Sinclair and other broadcasters will force, for sure, retransmission consent to become a lightning rod for Congress,” he added.