Suddenlink, CMG In War of Words As Retrans Talks Reach Impasse


On Wednesday (1/6), Cox Media Group lit the PR cannons and lobbed a cannonball in the direction of Suddenlink, in the form of a warning to subscribers that its broadcast TV channels were in danger of being “blocked” in lieu of a fresh retransmission consent agreement.

Suddenlink responded. But, talks didn’t progress since a day that will be long remembered for a Capitol Hill insurrection. As such, Suddenlink, by law, has prevented its paying subscribers from getting any CMG-owned station.

At 6:30pm PT on Friday (1/8), FOX affiliates KAYU-28 in Spokane, WHBQ-13 in Memphis and KOKI-23 in Tulsa; ABC affiliate KLAX-31 in Alexandria; the CBS and NBC affiliates serving Eureka-Arcata, Calif.; and the ABC, FOX, NBC and CBS stations serving Greenwood and Greenville, Miss., are now being blocked from viewers.

The blame game is on.

On Friday, Cox beat Suddenlink to the PR punch, pointing fingers that the Altice USA-owned MVPD for making “an anti-consumer decision to drop Cox Media Group (CMG) TV stations.”

Rather than reach a fair market deal with the Apollo Global Management-controlled CMG, Suddenlink “unfortunately opted to place their customers in the middle of their negotiations.”

Is that true, or a one-sided opinion?

Less than one hour later, Suddenlink issued a statement “related to Cox Media Group pulling its networks” from its TV lineups in six markets.

Intriguingly, Suddenlink used the word “networks” instead of “channels,” although none of the Big Four networks are involved in the negotiations.

“Despite being in the midst of a pandemic when access to affordable news is incredibly critical, Cox Media Group has pulled its channels from Suddenlink TV lineups in certain markets in an effort to extract an exorbitant increase in fees from us and our customers,” Suddenlink claims. “With so many households across the nation struggling, we call on Cox Media Group to stop holding our customers hostage, return the channels to our lineups, and focus on working with us to negotiate a new deal that is fair to our customers.”

To its defense, Cox points out that it has “over 100 agreements in place, including those with every other major cable and satellite provider in the markets we serve.”

Suddenlink responds that through parent company Altice USA in recent months, it has reached “dozens of deals with programmers, including many broadcasters in just the last several weeks, with no disruption to our customers.” Further, it assails CMG in asking for higher rates than what it pays “any other broadcaster.”

And, Cox EVP/Television Paul Curran took note of the pandemic while insisting that CMG stations get what they deserve in the way of retrans compensation.

“Our country continues to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic and, during these uncertain times, it is more important than ever that our viewers know their trusted local stations are there for them, providing the news and information they need to make decisions for their families,” Curran said. “CMG stations take pride in being trusted and vital resources for our communities, and we will fight to continue to fulfill this responsibility.”

The Humboldt County, Calif., stations present an ironic twist for Cox. Fifteen years ago, it owned the MVPD. The stations it owns today, dominant NBC affiliate KIEM-3 in Eureka and CBS sibling KVIQ-LP 14, came to CMG in late 2019 after Brian Brady’s Northwest Broadcasting was sold to Apollo, ahead of its Cox deal. In 2005, KVIQ was a Clear Channel-owned property using Channel 6, picked up in 2002 from Ackerley Group. KIEM was owned by Pollack/Belz Broadcasting.