Topeka Station Threatens To Pull Signal

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A Gray Television station in Topeka, Kan., is threatening to pull its signal from roughly a dozen cable systems Jan. 1 in a looming retransmission-consent dispute.

In a story being played out in markets across the country, CBS affiliate WIBW-TV is seeking cash for carriage of its signals, and local cable companies are balking. The station, which has a similar retransmission-consent beef with Cox Communications earlier this year, is reportedly seeking a more than 50-cent license fee for the station.

On the TV station’s Web site, general manager Jim Ogle outlined the broadcaster’s position on retransmission consent. 

“We at WIBW are asking these cable businesses, who for years made significant profits by re-selling our programming, to start paying us just as they pay the national cable channels,” he said. “WIBW spends millions of dollars each year in payroll and operations to offer by far the most-watched news and programming of any other channel in the Topeka television market.”

Ogle said on the site, “We tried to begin negotiating with these companies by telling them in early September that we were opting for retransmission consent and by making an offer in early October that was a significant discount from what these same systems were paying for other channels. Many cable companies realized our request was fair and reached an agreement with us. Many of the ones that remain did not start the process of even talking to us about these negotiations until last week. We are committed to reaching a fair agreement with every cable company. But we will no longer let them take our signal for free and then re-sell it so they can make a profit off our work.”

The systems involved in the potential standoff are Blue Valley Telecommunications, Campus Televideo, Council Grove Telephone, Cunningham Communications, Eagle Communications, Giant Communications, Rainbow Communications, Rapid Acquisition, SCI Cable, Sunflower Broadband, Tri-County Telephone Association, Twin Valley Communications and WTC Communications.

Although Sunflower carries WIBW, the station is actually outside of the cable operator’s DMA, which is Kansas City, according to Patrick Knorr, COO of The World Co., Sunflower’s parent company. So Sunflower is in a different position than the other cable systems, with less pressure to do a deal.

“We’re actually continuing to have positive negotiations,” Knorr said Wednesday. “And I think they understand that we don’t have to carry them. At this time, I expect that we’ll reach a deal and continue to carry them, but you never know. I don’t know the situation with other operators.”

Knorr said the retransmission-consent landscape is extremely difficult for rural cable operators, many of whom are being forced to pay “a rural surcharge” and fork over cash to broadcasters.

“There’s a lot cable operators that are paying, and consumer rates are going to be going up significantly,” Knorr said. “It’s a competitive situation, but ultimately this is a land grab and it’s mainly targeting smaller operators. I mean, I know for a fact that they’re not playing with the big guys (large MSOs). This is a rural surcharge, which I think is clear from the list that WIBW is sending out….A lot of rural operators feel they have no choice, they just don’t have any negotiating power, and are doing deals.”

Earlier this week, Gray TV put out a press release saying that it had made “significant progress” in reaching retransmission-consent deals with cable operators across the country, including agreements in principle with 20 large MSOs.

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