Mediacom, Sinclair Gird for Fight

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Mediacom Communications and Sinclair Broadcast Group last week took steps to prepare their customers for a looming retransmission-consent war slated to commence in less than a month.

The dispute, if unresolved, would remove popular programming such as Fox's House and professional and college-football games from cable systems in Iowa and the other Midwestern states where Mediacom operates.

The Middletown, N.Y.-based cable operator began the process of notifying its affected customers — about 800,000 of its total 1.4 million homes — that Sinclair-owned TV stations may no longer be available on their cable service starting Dec. 1. Mediacom is in a standoff with the broadcaster over paying cash to carry Sinclair's stations.

The two biggest markets and stations affected by the disagreement are Des Moines, Iowa, where Sinclair has Fox affiliate KDSM; and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Sinclair owns CBS affiliate KGAN. But in total, Mediacom would lose carriage of some 22 Sinclair outlets, in markets ranging from St. Louis to Nashville.

After failing to win a court injunction to bar Sinclair from removing its stations, Mediacom last Tuesday filed an emergency retransmission-consent complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, asking the agency to intercede and force Sinclair to negotiate in good faith.

Sinclair's strategy includes offering Mediacom customers in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a $150 rebate for switching to direct-broadcast satellite by Dec. 1. And in some of its other markets, late last week Sinclair began offering a similar offer — this one for a $100 rebate — to Mediacom subscribers for switching out, Sinclair general counsel Barry Faber said.

Mediacom is still proceeding with an antitrust suit it filed against Sinclair.

Mike Farrell contributed to this report.

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