Sinclair, Time Warner Settle


Sinclair Broadcast Group and Time Warner Cable reached a "mutually acceptable three-year agreement" late Friday, after the broadcaster granted the MSO two retransmission-consent extensions.

At press time Friday afternoon, Time Warner’s most recent extension to continue carrying Sinclair TV stations in former Adelphia Communications markets had been set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

Without another extension or a new retransmission-consent pact, Time Warner would have had to stop carrying Sinclair stations in markets -- mainly in New York, Ohio and Maine -- with roughly 1 million subscribers.

Meanwhile, the retransmission-consent battle between Mediacom Communications and Sinclair heated up this past week as the cable company tried to rally political and regulatory support in its fight.

And next week, the dispute is expected to land in front of an Iowa General Assembly committee. The Iowa General Assembly’s Joint Government Oversight Committee rescheduled a meeting on the Sinclair-Mediacom retransmission-consent battle, postponed from this past week, for Tuesday.

Mediacom chairman Rocco Commisso and Ed Pardini, senior vice president of Mediacom’s north-central region, are set to appear at that session in Des Moines. Sinclair officials -- possibly CEO Dave Smith and general counsel Barry Faber -- were also expected to appear.

Mediacom -- which has called for Congress to investigate and hold hearings on its fight with Sinclair -- and the broadcaster continued to swap accusations this past week as their standoff dragged on. Mediacom lost carriage of 22 Sinclair stations Jan. 6, impacting 700,000 of its subscribers, when it couldn’t come to financial terms on a new retransmission-consent pact with the broadcaster.

Commisso questioned why Sinclair has allowed its TV stations to go dark on his systems but granted several retransmission-consent extensions to Time Warner.

“[Sinclair officials] need to tell people in Iowa and my other 22 states why they gave Time Warner three extensions, if it gets extended, and only one to Mediacom customers," Commisso said Friday.

“They need to explain to someone why, even though they have the same issues with Time Warner as they have with us, why they have undertaken a three-month frontal attack with potentially illegal bounty payments with our largest competitor, DirecTV,” he added.

Commisso was referring to the rebate, from $100-$150, Mediacom subscribers will get if they switch to DirecTV.

Sinclair officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin said Wednesday that he supports binding arbitration to end the bitter carriage dispute.

“I continue to believe that this would be good for both parties to be submitting to,” Martin told reporters after the agency’s first public meeting of the year. Consumers, he added, shouldn’t lose access to programming while a dispute is in arbitration.

Mediacom’s position is that the FCC can impose mandatory binding arbitration to resolve the cable operator’s ongoing fight with Sinclair, although the FCC’s Media Bureau has said it doesn’t have the authority to do so.

In fact, the day after Martin’s remarks, Mediacom filed an emergency petition with the FCC. Mediacom asked the regulatory body’s to reconsider its Media Bureau’s refusal to order Sinclair to restore its TV stations, pending final resolution of the cable operator’s FCC complaint against the broadcaster, including appeals.

In its filing last week, Mediacom argued that the FCC has the authority to make Sinclair and Mediacom submit to binding arbitration in situations where an impasse in retransmission-consent negotiations results in interruption of cable carriage of a broadcast signal.

“We’re in agreement that binding arbitration is the way to go,” said Thomas Larsen, Mediacom’s VP of legal affairs. “It’s just that we don’t agree on whether it’s mandatory or not … Our position is that [Martin] has the authority to order it.”

The number of accusations flying between Mediacom and Sinclair ratcheted up last week after Commisso sent a letter Jan. 13 to members of Congress to complain that Sinclair singled out his company for discriminatory treatment. Commisso called for a probe of retransmission-consent abuses.

Smith shot back with his own letter to lawmakers, charging that Commisso’s claims were baseless and that legislators shouldn’t intervene in a commercial negotiation.

To date, Mediacom has handed out “thousands” of antennas to its subscribers since Sinclair pulled its signals, but the cable company won’t specify exactly how many. Mediacom also declined to say how many of its customers have defected to other distributors, such as direct-broadcast satellite service, since the Sinclair stations went black.

In terms of replacement programming for Sinclair stations, in some systems, Mediacom has been letting subscribers preview and sample different digital-cable networks. And in Iowa, Mediacom has produced some local programming, with local sports, that it’s airing in place of Sinclair stations.

Ted Hearn
Tom Steinert-Threlkeld
contributed to this story.