Retrans Scuffle Shows Positive Signs


The looming retransmission consent battle between Time Warner Cable and Sinclair Broadcast Group appears to be showing signs of positive movement, with both sides raising the possibility of arbitration to settle the dispute.
Sinclair's stations in 10 markets are scheduled to go dark on Time Warner Cable systems in Dayton and Columbus, Ohio; Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, N.Y.; and San Antonio, Texas on Jan. 1 unless a retransmission consent deal can be reached. Earlier, it was revealed that Time Warner Cable, in the event Sinclair pulls its signal, has the right to carry Fox Networks national broadcast feed in Sinclair's markets. However, Fox claims that its agreement requires that TIme Warner Cable take the Sinclair feed unless Sincalir declines. Six of the 10 stations involved in the dispute are Fox affiliates.
According to people familiar with the negotiations, Sinclair has put out the possibility of arbitration to settle the retrans dispute, a development those sources said Time Warner Cable would be amenable to. However, Sinclair has not offered details of what type of arbitration it would accept, who that arbitrator would be or when it would begin the process.
Time Warner Cable declined to comment. Sinclair vice president and general counsel Barry Faber did not return a call for comment.
Arbitration has usually been the cry of distributors in retrans fights - Cablevision repeatedly called for it in its dispute earlier this year with Fox Networks. There are typically two kinds of arbitration - one where both parties submit their cases and an independent third party comes up with a compromise; and "baseball style" where each party submits a figure and the arbitrator selects whichever figure he or she deems best.
And arbitration is no guarantee that either party will actually adhere to it. Last month, Dish Network pulled the signal of Comcast SportsNet California after it lost an arbitration decision to the regional sports network. For distributors, the man benefit of arbitration is that the programmer is not allowed to pull its signal while negotiations are ongoing.