The cage match has officially begun, with Mediacom filing an antitrust lawsuit against Sinclair late Wed involving retrans negotiations (Cfax, 9/29). Operators who have yet to sign deals with Sinclair are sure to watch closely. Several MSOs, such as Cox, have deals similar to what Mediacom had: rolling 30-day extensions that either party may terminate with 45 days notice at the end of a 30-day period. Mediacom got word last month (the same day it closed on its $300mln debt offering) that Sinclair will terminate all of its signals to the MSO at midnight Nov 30. The MSO’s lawsuit alleges that Sinclair violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by tying carriage of Big 4 broadcast affiliate stations in certain markets (such as Des Moines, IA) to carriage of Sinclair stations in other markets that are affiliated with either CW or MyNetworkTV. “We believe this all-or-nothing scheme violates antitrust law,” Mediacom chmn/CEO Rocco Commisso said. In the suit, Mediacom claims Sinclair insists on compensation for carriage of each and every station and that the MSO has no interest in engaging in retrans agreements for the CW and MNTV stations. Mediacom says it offered “monetary compensation” for the Big 4 stations, but not the tied stations, in a package deal Sinclair rejected. It’s unclear whether the offer was cash, or an advertising buy or similar practice often used by distributors. Cash-for- carriage is a hot potato among cable operators, with most claiming they don’t pay actual dollars for broadcast stations. Mediacom’s suit also claimed “information and belief” that Sinclair conspired with an unnamed DBS company for a bounty program in which Sinclair would receive reimbursement for any advertising losses suffered as a result of Mediacom losing the stations and monetary and/or other consideration for each Mediacom sub that switched to the DBS provider. Approximately half of Mediacom’s systems carry local broadcast stations owned or operated by Sinclair. 13 major nets are involved, including St Louis ABC affil KDNL, Des Moines Fox affil KDSM and Ashville, NC, ABC affil WLOS; 9 CW and MNTV stations are part of the spat.

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