Sinclair/Mediacom extend; TWC looks for cool-off


The retransmission negotiations between cable operator Mediacom and the Sinclair Broadcast Group have been extended until 1/8/10, assuring that viewers will not lose service from Sinclair stations when the year changes over. Nothing yet from Fox and Time Warner Cable, but TWC is asking for a cooling off period that would give them 30 more days to talk. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is paying close attention.

Commenting on the extension with Mediacom, Sinclair General Counsel Barry Faber said, “Our viewers are very important to us and we responded to their interest in being able to watch, via Mediacom, programs meaningful to them over the next eight days.  We recognize that several of the impacted markets have college teams that will be playing in the BCS Bowl games.  Although our stations are available for free over-the-air and from Mediacom’s competitors, we thought it was important to ensure that our viewers had the opportunity to see those games without inconvenience.”

The negotiations between Fox and TWC remain contentious. In asking for more time, TWC said in a statement, “Our customers should not be held hostage over a business negotiation and we implore Fox to not make America’s living rooms a corporate battleground.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski commended the Sinclair/Mediacom agreement and asked for the same from Fox/TWC.

Addressing the situation at some length, Genachowski said, “I commend Sinclair and Mediacom for agreeing to an eight-day extension of their retransmission consent agreement, which was set to expire tonight. This extension, to midnight January 8, 2010, will avert the frustration that Mediacom customers would have experienced if Sinclair stations had ceased to be available over Mediacom systems at midnight tonight. It will give Sinclair and Mediacom additional time to resolve their negotiations successfully, as hundreds of other broadcasters and cable companies have done throughout the country, so that viewers will have uninterrupted access to popular broadcast programming.

“I hope and expect that the parties will use this extension to come to terms by the January 8 expiration date. But at the end of the day, the companies will have to accept shared responsibility for protecting their audience’s interests, as the current framework governing retransmission consent agreements contemplates. Assuming that the parties negotiate in good faith during the extension, therefore, I will not seek a further continuation of carriage absent a new agreement between the parties.

“I have urged Fox and Time Warner Cable to agree to a temporary extension of carriage if they do not come to terms on a new carriage agreement today, in order to prevent disruption to their viewers. Companies shouldn’t force cable-watching football fans to scramble for other means of TV delivery on New Year’s weekend.

“I thank the Media Bureau for its diligent work on this important matter.”

RBR-TVBR observation: We get the sense that the FCC would love to be able to stay on the sidelines on this one – it’s an issue that pits one industry against another. There’s even some question as to whether or not the FCC can intervene in a matter such as this.

But consumers – known in Washington as “the public” —  are caught in the middle, and the FCC is under pressure from legislators to look out for the public interest and step in. We hope these issues are resolved before the FCC is forced into it.