Reprieve for Mediacom


Mediacom Communications last week won a temporary reprieve in its long-brewing retransmission-consent dispute with a broadcaster, while EchoStar Communications was able to strike a permanent deal with another TV-station group.

Mediacom's cable systems and EchoStar's Dish Network satellite service faced losing the signals for TV stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group and Pappas Telecasting, respectively, as of Dec. 1, because of expiring retransmission-consent pacts.

If the 22 Sinclair and 15 Pappas stations had been pulled, roughly 2.7 million cable and satellite subscribers would have been affected. But the worst-case scenario was avoided in both instances.

Thursday night, Sinclair granted Mediacom an extension to continue carrying the broadcaster's stations until Jan. 5. The delay will allow both sides to continue negotiating toward a to longer-term agreement, according to Mediacom.

That same day, Pappas and EchoStar said they had reached a five-year retransmission-consent agreement, running through Nov. 30, 2011. Terms were not disclosed.

Both brouhahas center on how much the distributors will pay the broadcasters to carry their stations.

Mediacom and Sinclair conducted a war of words last week before the broadcaster gave the cable operator the extension.

Mediacom held a conference call to outline its position in the dispute, during which it also provided an update on the new offers it had made to Sinclair in the past week.

According to its chairman and CEO, Rocco Commisso, Mediacom had increased the compensation it was offering to carry Sinclair's stations by 33%. As another alternative, Mediacom said it would agree to binding arbitration. The company also gave the broadcaster the option of providing its TV stations a la carte to Mediacom customers, he said.

“They're making it very difficult, in my opinion, to strike a deal,” Commisso said.

Mediacom said it had made arrangements to run alternative programming, including local news from other TV stations and cable networks, in the slots formerly held by Sinclair stations.

A day later, Sinclair conducted its own conference call, where officials said their dealings with Mediacom were simply a commercial negotiation.

“Unfortunately, the potential seller and the potential buyer have not been able to agree on price,” Sinclair general counsel Barry Faber said.

Mediacom has an antitrust suit pending against Sinclair, as well as a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.

Last month, a federal judge ordered the broadcaster to file papers responding to the lawsuit within 30 days.