It’s not every day that EchoStar gains the sympathies of cable operators, but retransmission consent makes for strange bedfellows. A dispute flared up between EchoStar and Sinclair Broadcast Group this week-the same week that Sen Commerce chmn Ted Stevens (R-AK) promised hearings on retrans. (Here’s a toughie for cable ops: what’s the lesser of two evils between EchoStar and Sinclair?) The spat may have DISH losing Sinclair stations June 1, SKYReport says. And it could mean trouble for cable ops negotiating with Sinclair. Several ops have retrans deals with the broadcaster that expire at year’s end. "Sinclair is one of these problem station groups that’s going to be demanding cash," says ACA chief Matt Polka, whose group is in DC this week lobbying for retrans reform. If EchoStar with 10mln + subs is having trouble, imagine how much tougher it will be for small ops with less leverage, Polka says. We heard reports Tues that some Sinclair stations were running crawls advising DISH subs about the possible loss of stations June 1 and urging them to call DirecTV or their local cable operator. EchoStar supports ACA’s attempt to have the FCC revisit retrans. It claims to be negotiating in good faith. Sinclair did not return calls, but its Web site says the contract allowing EchoStar to carry each of Sinclair’s broadcast stations expires May 31. "Despite the good faith efforts of Sinclair to arrange for an extension of this agreement with Echostar … we have been unable to reach an agreement to do so," it said. In the meantime, the broadcaster is encouraging viewers to "make alternative arrangements to ensure their continued ability to watch our programming." Sinclair is notorious for its cash demands for HD carriage. It was tied up in lengthy negotiations recently with Comcast, with the 2 reaching a multi-year deal for digital and analog carriage in all Sinclair markets (sources said the agreement did not include cash for carriage). DirecTV also recently inked a deal that included HD and analog carriage. Sinclair stations include affiliates for the 6 major broadcast nets, with key markets including Baltimore, Las Vegas and OK City.

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