The flap between Mediacom Communications Corp. and Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. escalated last Friday after the cable operator filed suit in a federal court, alleging Sinclair violated antitrust laws in seeking cash for retransmission consent.
Mediacom first revealed the dispute with Sinclair in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Sept. 28, when it said that although it was still in negotiations with Sinclair regarding retransmission consent for stations that covered half of its 1.4 million-subscriber footprint, the broadcaster's price was still too high.
According to the suit, filed Oct. 5 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Mediacom and Sinclair have been in negotiations since Oct. 19, 2005. But recently, the negotiations shifted when Sinclair apparently tried to get its stations affiliated with two fledgling networks, The CW and MyNetwork TV, included in the deal.
Mediacom, according to the suit, is willing to pay for Sinclair stations affiliated with the four largest broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox), but does not want to pay for the other, less-watched stations.
According to the suit, Mediacom said it was not interested in carrying affiliates of The CW and MyNetwork TV because “there is little demand for these stations among its subscribers and that it could find other higher value uses for those channel slots.”
Sinclair has about 13 major network stations and nine CW and MyNetwork TV affiliates in Mediacom's footprint. The major broadcast stations are in areas like St. Louis; Des Moines, Iowa.; Lexington, Ky.; and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The CW and MyNetwork TV stations are in areas such as Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Nashville and Paducah, Ky.
On Sept. 28, Sinclair notified Mediacom that it had revoked the cable operator's right to carry all of its stations, effective midnight on Nov. 30.
Mediacom said in a statement that Sinclair's demands could cost its cable customers millions of dollars. “It is not fair to our customers who ultimately bear these costs and we have decided to draw the line by asking a federal court to stop these practices by Sinclair,” Mediacom chairman and CEO Rocco Commisso said in a statement.
Sinclair vice president and general counsel Barry Faber did not return a phone call seeking comment.