The latest in the ongoing fandango between Mediacom Communications and Sinclair Broadcast Group, which forced Mediacom to drop its broadcast stations at midnight on Jan. 5th after their retransmission consent contract deadline expired:
• The five-member Iowa Congressional Delegation and both Iowa U.S. Senators sent a letter on Wed. Jan. 10th urging the heads of Mediacom and Sinclair to submit to binding arbitration. (PDF attached). Sinclair declined in a response Thursday, reiterating that the impasse "may continue for the foreseeable future."
• Sinclair VP and general counsel Barry Faber said in a conference call on Tues. Jan. 9 that its stalemate with Mediacom over retransmission of its broadcast TV signals could continue "for a long period of time." (Click here to listen to a webcast of the call).
• Mediacom filed an appeal to the Federal Communications Commission on Mon. Jan. 8 seeking the reversal of the FCC Media Bureau order issued Jan. 4th that ruled against Mediacom in its retransmission consent complaint against Sinclair Broadcast Group. (Click here to download a PDF of Mediacom’s FCC appeal).
• Mediacom also held a conference call on Jan. 8 to discuss its side of the stand-off. (Click here to listen to a webcast of the call). Company executives discussed the first weekend of the Sinclair-imposed blackout, in which Sinclair refused to negotiate and Mediacom distributed thousands of free VHF/UHF antenna kits and 4-page instructions that may have bewildered elderly customers. The Des Moines Register commented that Mediacom was "handing out [antennas] like Happy Meals at the drive-through window. At the height of the crush, the customers weren’t even getting out of their cars. Just open the window and duck." (The crush continued Tuesday, reports AP).
• Satellite TV retailers like Steve Suderman, a satellite TV retailer in Champaign, IL, did a brisk business. As Suderman tells The Urbana/Champaign News-Gazette: "Our phones have been constantly ringing." Mediacom replaced WICD and WICS, Sinclair’s two local ABC affiliate feeds in that market, with Starz Kids and Family.
• The Iowa Cable & Telecommunications Association announced its support of Mediacom in the dispute. The state cable association’s EVP, Thomas Graves, stated in a press release on Jan. 8: "This office is imploring Iowa legislators to take immediate action. We are asking that the Iowa General Assembly hold hearings to investigate the outrageous tactics of Sinclair, and to determine how Iowa consumers have suffered because of them. Furthermore, we are asking Iowa’s General Assembly to deliver to Gov.-elect Culver appropriate legislation to prevent any programmer — whether it be a broadcaster or a cable network — from discriminating against Iowans. … We will also ask other state cable associations to seek such legislation in their states."
• Besides distributing rabbit ear antennas, Mediacom has been hosting free public screenings of blacked out broadcast TV programming in select markets, including renting a venue at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington, IL, on Mon., Jan. 8 "so customers could watch the Bowl Championship Series National Championship football game on Fox. The Coliseum still has Fox programming because it’s served by Insight Communications," noted The Bloomington Pantagraph.
• Sinclair is now facing two more retransmission consent deadlines with major cable operators, the first with Time Warner Cable at midnight on Friday night (Jan. 12). David Evans, city manager in Richmond, FL, tells The Bradenton Herald, "most local cable customers are waiting until the Friday deadline to act, but they might not last long without NFL football, NASCAR and American Idol. ‘I think that would drive a lot of people to satellite,’" said Evans. Sinclair is also facing a retransmission consent contract deadline with Comcast that will expire on Feb. 5th, during February sweeps.