Seeking an end to its ongoing retransmission consent spat with the Sinclair Broadcast Group, Mediacom Communications on Sunday announced it would accept the same terms that Sinclair reached with Time Warner Cable, an agreement that was formally announced this morning and (unlike Mediacom) averted any black-out of Sinclair’s signals on TW systems.
If Sinclair declines to extend the Time Warner terms, Mediacom is once again calling for both parties to submit to binding arbitration. Mediacom SVP Ed Pardini and Sinclair president/CEO David Smith and VP/general counsel Barry Faber are scheduled to appear tomorrow before the Iowa Legislature’s House and Senate Oversight Committee (AP via the Iowa City Press-Citizen), when Smith and Faber will no doubt be asked to spell out the terms of Sinclair’s new deal with Time Warner Cable and whether they will agree to Mediacom’s latest offer or arbitration. (The Iowa Broadcasters Association, naturally, is supporting Sinclair in tomorrow’s debate).
The new Time Warner/Sinclair contract covers analog and digital carriage of 35 Sinclair broadcast stations in 22 Time Warner Cable markets through Dec. 31, 2009. Although terms of the "mutually acceptable economic agreement" for retransmission consent were not publicly announced, Mediacom will accept the same per subscriber fee that Time Warner is paying and is miffed that Time Warner was never forced to drop Sinclair’s signals while its negotiations continued through contract extensions.
Sinclair had extended Mediacom’s contract through Jan. 5th but forced the company to drop its signals on Jan. 6th after the parties failed to strike a deal. Sinclair did not respond to Mediacom’s latest volley on Sunday, when some two million Mediacom customers missed the NFL Playoff games that sent the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl.
"Now that Sinclair has reached a long term deal with Time Warner, whose terms presumably reflect the current market for retransmission consent, Sinclair should have no further excuses for not offering similar terms to Mediacom," Mediacom chairman and CEO Rocco Commisso said in a statement. "Failure to do so would be the strongest indication yet that Sinclair is intent on using its raw market power and leverage to discriminate against Mediacom and other smaller cable companies serving small communities across America."
Commisso continued: "I also would like to repeat my calls on members of Congress to intercede as early as the Senate Commerce Committee Oversight Hearings of the FCC scheduled for February 1, 2007. Broadcasters use publicly-owned spectrum free of charge and the retransmission consent law was not intended to arm Sinclair and other broadcasters with the tool to extract significant sums of money from consumers nationwide and to harm competition by unreasonably discriminating between video distributors. I ask Congress to turn up the volume on this matter, do everything in their power to get the Sinclair stations quickly restored and, in the longer term, fix this broken law."
The Georgia Cable Television Association today rallied behind Mediacom, which has experienced an eventful couple of weeks since it was forced to drop Sinclair’s stations:
• Mediacom filed an emergency petition to the FCC on Jan. 18 seeking reconsideration of the Media Bureau’s Jan. 5th order that denied Mediacom’s request to continue carrying the Sinclair stations while negotiations continued. Mediacom also challenged Sinclair president and CEO David Smith over allegations in his Jan. 16th letter to Congress dated Jan. 13th, pointing out that Sinclair had a track record of agreeing to binding arbitration, a Mediacom offers it has repeatedly declined. Separately, on Jan. 18 six Iowa senators challenged Sinclair to restore its stations to Mediacom.
• On Jan. 17th, FCC chairman Kevin Martin announces that he supports binding arbitration between the companies to resolve their dispute.
• On Jan. 16th, the Illinois Cable Assocation blasted Sinclair Broadcasting over its treatment of Mediacom and accused Sinclair of "discriminatory pricing practices," the same day that Sinclair pres/CEO Smith sent a follow-up letter to members of Congress addressing Mediacom’s complaints.
• On Jan. 15th, Mediacom again offered to submit to binding arbitration if Sinclair would agree.
• On Jan. 13th, Mediacom called on members of Congress to hold hearings looking into retransmission consent issues in general and its showdown with Sinclair in particular.
• On Jan. 12th, Sinclair announced that the FCC once again denied Sinclair’s petition to be allowed to carry Sinclair’s stations on an interim basis while negotiations continued.
• On Jan. 11th, the Iowa Congressional Delegation urged Mediacom and Sinclair to begin binding arbitration; Sinclair declined and outlined its reasons why in a letter to the Iowa Congress members.
• On Jan. 8th, after its first weekend without Sinclair’s signals, Mediacom appealed to the full FCC to reconsider the Media Bureau’s rejection of its request for the FCC to intervene in the dispute.
• Mediacom customers scrambled in the days following the Jan. 6th shut-off of Sinclair’s signals in Mediacom’s cable markets.