Since 12/19, more than 100,000 Buckeye Cablevision subscribers have endured Sinclair’s blackout of WWNO-TV (NBC) in Toledo, OH. So, on 2/18 Buckeye filed a bad faith complaint at the FCC. Buckeye says it isn’t asking for the Commission to dictate an outcome or even mandate that Sinclair accept a ratings-based approach. They just want them to force Sinclair to get back to the negotiating table; stop demanding that they carry those future cable networks; and consider the competitive marketplace in the talks. Buckeye cites the following Sinclair negotiating tactics as evidence of bad faith:
–Unilaterally stopping negotiations while progress was being made. On February 7, just three hours after making an offer, Buckeye received a “terse, three sentence email” from Sinclair saying that negotiations are “at an end.” This is something that Sinclair announced today.
–Refusing to consider “competitive marketplace conditions.” Buckeye notes that WWNO is demanding double the retrans compensation that Buckeye pays other network affiliates even though it “is frequently the lowest-rated major network affiliate in Toledo and has been a serial underperformer for many years.” Some of the specifics on ratings here had to be redacted in the public version of the complaint (per the Nielsen rules on confidentiality).
–Demanding that Buckeye “commit to carry (and, in SBG’s most recent offer, pay for) cable networks that SBG has not yet launched as a condition of carrying WWNO.” Buckeye calls this a “perversion of Congress’ retransmission consent system – which was designed to promote the health of local stations, not national conglomerates.”
Barrington Broadcasting Group sold WNWO and 17 other stations to Sinclair Broadcast Group in November. At the time of the blackout, Jeff Abbas, Buckeye president and GM, said: “Buckeye simply cannot agree to pay Sinclair 10 times more for WNWO than what previous owners required. That is unfair to our customers who are being burdened by ever-increasing programming costs, and it is also unfair to the other stations in Toledo who have much higher viewership than WNWO.”
RBR-TVBR observation: Buckeye is no stranger to retrans battles. Earlier in 2013, Buckeye was also involved in a retransmission fight with the local Fox Toledo affiliate WUPW, ch. 36, when the station’s owners, American Spirit Media, and Raycom Media, owner of WTOL (CBS), ch. 11, sought to increase WUPW’s retransmission rates.