NCTC Comes Out Against Sinclair-Tribune

Says retrans negotiation tactics are aggressive, excessive and unreasonable

Pointing out that it rarely comments in FCC proceedings, the National Cable Television Cooperative is making an exception for proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger, which the group says the FCC should not approve in its current form.

NCTC, a buying cooperative that negotiates programming deals, including retrans consent, for its consortium of smaller operators, said Sinclair has already been using its size, and its anticipated deal, to extract "unreasonable and above-market terms."

As the largest TV group owner, Sinclair-Tribune would set the tone and drive a trend in retrans negotiations that would hurt smaller operators and their subs, the NCTC added. The FCC requires retrans negotiations to be in "good faith."

"While the 'good faith' rules historically have not proven to provide significant constraints on broadcasters’ conduct, Sinclair’s tactics ignore even those minimal requirements" NCTC said.

When NCTC did not accept what it called Sinclair's unreasonable terms, "Sinclair broke off negotiations with and imposed worse terms on members via individually proposed agreements," the group asserted in its comments. But it also said that "just prior to this filing," Sinclair made a "limited gesture" to "reengage with the NCTC."

NCTC also complained that the deal would give the combined company more leverage to tie non-broadcast content to TV station signal carriage, specifically Sinclair's Tennis Channel and Tribune's WGN America.

The FCC must either apply conditions to ameliorate the retrans problems -- it does not specify those fixes -- or not approve the deal, NCTC said.

Related: House Democrats Seek Own Sinclair Data Dump

The comments were filed Nov. 2, the deadline for an extended two-week window the FCC opened on the proposed deal after it asked Sinclair for more info on the deal. The FCC also restarted its informal shot clock on the merger review Nov. 2.

A Sinclair spokesperson declined comment, but broadcasters generally argue that their increasing retrans take is because they are finally getting the true value for their must-have signals.