Time Warner Faces Sinclair Loss

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At press time Friday, Time Warner Cable and the Sinclair Broadcast Group were still trying to finalize a retransmission-consent deal for the cable systems that were formerly owned by Adelphia Communications.

Time Warner and the broadcaster on Dec. 31 agreed to an extension of their expired deal until this past Friday, Jan. 12. If the two hadn't concluded reaching a new deal or agreed to another extension, technically Time Warner could have lost carriage of the signals as of 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 13.

CABLER HOPEFUL

Late last week, Time Warner Cable spokesman Mark Harrad said the company was hopeful a final pact would be reached before the deadline, or a second extension would be issued so the contract could be finished up.

About 1 million Time Warner subscribers, formerly Adelphia customers, mainly in New York, Ohio and Maine would be impacted if worse came to worse and Sinclair pulled its signals.

Meanwhile, the battle continued to rage between Sinclair and Mediacom Communications, with the two companies exchanging jabs through a handful of press releases and press conferences last week.

Mediacom fired the first salvo Jan. 8, holding a press conference to announce its appeal of the Jan. 4 Federal Communications Commission ruling that found Sinclair to be negotiating in good faith with the cable company. Mediacom claimed the FCC erred on about 10 accounts in its ruling, including that the complaint should have been acted on by the full commission instead of the Media Bureau, and that the Bureau slipped up in stating it could not force binding arbitration.

Mediacom and Sinclair have been at loggerheads over their own retrans deal for months, culminating in Sinclair pulling its signals from Mediacom systems in 12 states with 700,000 subscribers at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 6.

The Sinclair stations are affiliates of ABC, Fox, MyNetwork TV and The CW. The number of subscribers who lost major network affiliates like Fox is about 500,000, according to company officials. The bulk of those subscribers are in Mediacom's Iowa market.

Mediacom also enlisted the help of the Iowa Cable & Telecommunications Association, which fired off its own letter to Iowa legislators asking for their intervention and for the passage of a law that would prevent programmers — cable or broadcast — from “discriminating against Iowans.”

Sinclair fired back the next day, refuting Mediacom's arguments and stating that the dispute was not likely to be resolved soon.

“The parties do not appear to be any closer,” Sinclair vice president and general counsel Barry Faber said on the Jan. 9 call. “This may continue for a long period of time.”

Faber also mocked Mediacom's assertion that Iowa state legislators will step in to resolve the dispute.

“Mediacom, the company which is predicting that legislators will step in to help them, is the same company that incorrectly predicted they would receive help from a federal court, which denied their motion for an injunction, and from the FCC which also denied all of their filings,” Faber said on the call.

ARBITRATION BID

On Jan. 11, a group of U.S. senators and congressmen from Iowa — U.S. Sens. Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley and U.S. Reps. Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack, Leonard Boswell, Tom Latham and Steve King — entered the fray, sending a letter to Mediacom chairman and CEO Rocco Commisso and Sinclair CEO David Smith, urging the two to enter into binding arbitration.

“Given that negotiations stand at an impasse, binding arbitration would seem to present the parties with an alternative mechanism for resolving this dispute,” the lawmakers wrote. “We therefore urge that you consider the clear guidance of the Federal Communications Commission in agreeing to a process to bring the parties to an agreement without further harming Iowa consumers.”

Later that day Sinclair promptly rejected that request, stating in a letter that it is “not prepared” for arbitration.

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