Sinclair Broadcasting issued a press release this afternoon stating it doesn’t expect to reach an agreement with Mediacom Communications before the parties’ Jan. 5th deadline to renegotiate their current retransmission consent carriage deal. "We would consider a proposal at any time and the agreement has about two and a half more weeks to run and we’ll certainly consider an offer," says Sinclair VP/general counsel Barry Faber. "Even once we’re off their systems [starting Jan. 6] there’s still room for discussion. Never say never," he added.

So was putting out a press release titled "Sinclair Negotiations with Mediacom Unsuccessful" just a negotiating ploy? Faber said talks aren’t being called off but said today’s release is intended as a public service to update Mediacom customers on the status of the situation and let them know there’s a very real chance they will lose Sinclair’s broadcast signals in the new year. "Our view is that one of the public service requirements is that the public knows what’s going on to the extent that the public wants to continue to watch our stations, so it’s important that they have advance warning," Faber said. Joseph Young, Mediacom’s general counsel, told AP he was surprised at Sinclair’s press release but stated that "Mediacom is willing to continue negotiating on a good faith basis."

Sinclair isn’t only haggling with Mediacom over retrans consent renewals at the moment; it’s facing a Dec. 30 deadline (already twice extended) over its broadcast signals in the former Adelphia markets acquired by Time Warner Cable including Columbus, OH, Charleston, W. VA, Portland, ME and Buffalo, NY. "Sinclair, based in Hunt Valley, Md., said the two sides still are far apart in negotiations," according to an AP report (via SportingNews.com) which quoted Faber as saying: "I certainly wouldn’t say I’m optimistic."

However, Faber today described Sinclair’s negotiations with Time Warner as "a little more optimistic" than the Mediacom stand-off, which he said is stalled over a basic buyer/seller issue: pricing. "I try to go into all negotiations with an optimistic point of view, at least until the facts indicate otherwise," Faber commented. "In these cable/broadcast situations it’s in both parties’ best interests to reach an agreement." One legal tussle Sinclair has resolved in recent days: a two-year dispute with its former Washington bureau chief (Baltimore Sun).



FCC commissioner Robert McDowell declined to cast the deciding vote in the proposed (and 2-2 deadlocked) BellSouth/AT&T merger deal now before the commission (AP). The former telecom lobbyist was cleared on Dec. 8 by the FCC’s legal team to break the tie after initially recusing himself. McDowell now hopes his fellow commissioners will reach a decision without him. [Click here for a PDF of McDowell’s statement].

Separately, the FCC on Wednesday will vote on chair Kevin Martin‘s proposal, which is backed by Verizon and AT&T, to increase competition for cable operators by making it easier for telcos to secure local franchises. Or in FCC-speak, "The Commission will consider a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding Section 621(a)(1)’s directive that local franchising authorities not unreasonably refuse to award competitive franchises."

Martin’s proposal, which aims to limit local franchising authorities to 90 days to review video franchise applications and LFAs’ ability to stipulate other items (such as community projects) as conditions for approval is the second item on the agenda after the release of the FCC’s report on cable industry prices, which is expected to state that cable prices shot up 93% from 1995-2005.

Comments the Associated Press: Martin’s proposal, "which will not be made public by the agency until after the vote, has alarmed local franchising authorities that have heard Martin’s remarks. They contend his ‘barrier to entry’ argument is bogus and action by the agency may wind up hurting consumers. There also is some question about whether Martin’s proposal is within the limits of the agency’s authority." (Click here to read the Dec. 12 letter from the National League of Cities, NATOA and other concerned parties to Martin and the FCC.)

Meanwhile, Verizon and AT&T have shifted their federal lobbying efforts to seeking more statewide video franchises along the lines of New Jersey and Kansas, writes Bloomberg News (via IHT.com). Next up: Michigan‘s statewide cable franchise bill, which awaits (an expected) approval by governor Jennifer Granholm and already has local officials concerned, reports The Daily Telegram of Adrian, MI.



Time Warner Cable dropped Fox affiliate KAYU at midnight on Dec. 14 after failing to reach a retransmission consent agreement to carry its signal. Time Warner’s Northwest market website posts an FAQ about the situation (saying KAYU increased its most recent demand 400%) but reassures customers that both parties are still talking and to check back for updates. KAYU outlines its side of the argument on its website.



Skype, the Web-based phone service that was acquired by eBay last year, is testing a peer-to-peer based video sharing service. Dubbed The Venice Project, it already involves 6,000 beta-testers reports the Financial Times, which adds that non-amateur content and community/chat features could be its sweet spot: "Skype users can also use its conference calling facility to chat with other friends watching the same programme … Unlike YouTube or other video sharing sites, all of the content will be professionally produced, uploaded by content owners and encrypted before being sent out."

The Venice Project blog describes the P2P IPTV service (which promises to obey the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) as: "we’re fixing TV; removing artificial limits such as the number of channels that your cable or the airwaves can carry and then bringing it into the internet age; adding community features, interactivity, etc. But we’re also bringing something back from that old TV—of having a shared experience with your friends, something you can talk about, rally around and enjoy with others."

Meanwhile, U.S. TV’s answer to YouTube—a shared video portal including content from Viacom, NBC Universal, Fox and CBS (but not Disney’s ABC) that was reported in the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 9—could be announced this week, writes The New York Times, which adds that soon to be Discovery head David Zaslav was one of its architects. YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen are featured in TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year: You special issue released today.



The NFL Network is surprised its free view offer to Time Warner Cable and other NY/NJ area operators (the NFL’s initial pitch: pick up the channel for a full week on basic cable in time to show Rutgers in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 28) isn’t gaining traction. "We honestly believed offering a free, no-strings attached offer would be met with open arms," the network said in a statement. "Since that has not been the case, we are continuing to explore options and alternatives with Time Warner that will ensure our fans can take advantage of this free offer." San Antonio’s gridiron fans—forced to watch the Dallas Cowboys beat the Atlanta Falcons anywhere but home because of Time Warner’s stand-off with the channel— apparently flooded its phonelines with complaints over the weekend, according to The San Antonio Express-News. David Dane, regional VP/GM of Atlantic Broadband, explained in a letter to the editor of The Cumberland Times-News (serving western MD/VA) why his company isn’t picking up NFL Network’s Thur/Sat games package.



The New York Times writes that Comcast is releasing more studio titles on its video on demand service the same day as the DVD release. Its day-and-date VOD efforts kicked off in March with independent films via the IFC in Theaters initiative, which debuted first-run theatrical indie titles twice a month on Comcast on Demand. Time Warner Cable last week launched More Movies on Demand—a partnership with In Demand that will expand its VOD movie library to more than 2,000 titles by mid-2007—in its Greensboro NC Triad market, which was also TW’s national launch pad for its Start Over network DVR service. (CT has more).



Showtime is launching a social networking website for lesbians as an off-shoot of The L Word, called OurChart.com, which will go live in January … Showtime’s 30-year partnership with The Smithsonian for Smithsonian on Demand, a joint venture VOD channel, was the subject of a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released last week (AP). The GAO urged more transparency for decisions affected by the Showtime contract’s exclusivity terms, which forbade two documentary filmmakers from the Smithsonian’s archives in the first nine months of the partnership. The Smithsonian acknowledged Friday that the GAO assessment was fair and vowed to be more open … Showtime programming (along with titles from A&E Television Networks) will be offered on CinemaNow‘s download-to-own service for $1.99 per episode.



UPCOMING PROGRAMMING

Discovery Channel‘s American Chopper is moving to sister net TLC on Jan. 18 to anchor its new primetime block, Turbo on TLC

Starz The Hollywood Reporter looks back at 2006; Dec. 26 on Starz or Dec. 15 on Vongo

TBS original comedy series My Boys received a nine-episode pick-up; its season 1 finale airs Dec. 28

In Demand’s INHD network offers a New Year’s Eve special, London Live New Year’s Countdown, from 10pm-midnight ET. Part of its new primetime MOJO block, the HD telecast will feature an array of taped concert performances from its London Live series as selected by visitors to its website

PBS will premiere three pilots for science series as streaming video on pbs.org on New Year’s Day; viewers’ favorite will become a 10-ep series next fall

The N‘s teen dramas—Degrassi: The Next Generation and Beyond The Breakreturn with new episodes on Jan. 5

VH1 searches for the next Eminem in a new series, ego trip’s The (White) Rapper Show, that premieres Jan. 8

TV Land‘s new series, TV Land Myths and Legends, debuts Jan. 10

The Outdoor Channel unveiled its new primetime lineup that debuts in January

Turner Broadcasting is offering a sneak peek (or pop) at Super Deluxe, its broadband comedy network launching in January and now featuring virtual bubble wrap on its homepage

USA Network paid $20 million for Casino Royale, beating TNT, FX and Spike for the latest Bond film (Variety)



NEWS BRIEFS

BellSouth
lowered the price on its premium DSL service by $4/mo while Verizon lowered the price of its highest-speed DSL service (50 Mbps downstream/5 Mbps upstream, as just launched in MA and RI) by $40/mo. Verizon’s FiOS TV service was just approved in Newton MA, its largest franchise in the state.

Nielsen Media Research pres/CEO Susan Whiting is being promoted to EVP of VNU in a corporate reshuffling.

Cingular
is launching MySpace Mobile, allowing MySpacers to post photos and blogs on their pages and other features

Cisco’s Linksys announced iPhone, a VoIP handheld device that incorporates music, movies and live video cameras

Sony will enable video downloads for its PlayStation Portable early next year, allowing PSP users to download movies from the Web onto a PC and then onto one Sony device using a 4Gb memory stick capable of holding up to 10 feature films at a time (FT.com)

Bright House launched News 13 En Español (Washington Business Journal)

MTV Networks‘ Mobile Media Group (a new unit headed by SVP Greg Clayman) is already busy creating custom content for wireless platforms such as VH1‘s Mobile Junk 20, a user-generated Web video series (exclusive to Sprint through January) where users can vote on clips and share videos and photos (Financial Times via MSNBC.com).

MTVN‘s Urge digital music service added My Auto-Mix, a personalized playlist feature, and gave its take on the top music trends of ’06 and picks for ’07.

Bright House and Verizon’s FiOS compete in Central Florida  (Bradenton Herald)

A former Comcast sub explains how FiOS marketing tactics got him to switch to FiOS (Norristown Times Herald, PA)

Blonder Tongue sold its Texas cable operations to DirectPath (part owned by DirecTV) and (separately) sold select patents for $2 million

Wirespan is suing Comcast for $13 million (Baltimore Business Journal)

Dish Network and Chase are running an interactive advertising campaign (powered by The Media Group) through Jan. 1

Motorola‘s Nick Chakalos discusses Apple’s iTV and Moto’s moves in the interactive video space (The Mac Observer via TechNewsWorld)

Verizon joined a consortium to build an optical cable network linking China and the U.S.

Lifetime‘s NYC HQ facelift puts people over technology (The New York Times)

AP writes about sports fans (and leagues) flocking to the Web, iTunes, Slingbox, wireless and other plays such as broadband sports programmer WCSN

Wired asks a reporter to unplug the tube and find TV programming

A former Americable exec pleaded guilty to fraud (San Antonio Business Journal)

DirecTV last week settled with the FTC over its Do Not Call telemarketing transgressions (ConsumerAffairs.com) and promised to pull its "our HD is better" ads in response to Time Warner Cable‘s suit (Variety) although Phillip Swann reported Saturday that DirecTV’s Jessica Simpson/HD ad was still running on News Corp.-owned Fox

Crown Media completed the sale of its film library to producer Robert Halmi and son

Vibe Solutions launched Vibe Journal, which allows users to create rich media Web content including video using its VibeTV feature. The service is similar to its Vibe Video Mail product deployed by Comcast and other cable operators

Concurrent has delivered more than one million VOD streams

The Daily

Subscribe

Programming

ESPN is activating its MegaCast production for the NFL Wild Card presentation (taking place Jan 9 or 10). ESPN and ABC will simulcast the Wild Card game, and ESPN2 and Freeform

Read the Full Issue
The Skinny is delivered on Tuesday and focuses on the cable profession. You'll stay in the know on the headlines, topics and special issues you value most. Sign Up