Many broadcasters have been embracing retransmission consent fees, but right now Lowell Register might be wishing he wasn’t getting paid for WPGA-TV Macon, GA. His station is looking death in the eye on New Year’s Day.
“It’s a frustrating situation for us,” Register told RBR-TVBR. Register Communications was unable to come to terms with ABC on renewing its network affiliation, so as 2010 begins WPGA will become an independent and the new ABC affiliate in Macon will be the DT-2 channel of WGXA-TV (Fox). Register said he couldn’t afford to pay ABC, which was what was being demanded, but he was all set to go forward with syndicated programming on WPGA – that is, until he got a notification from Cox Communications at the beginning of this month.
Cox, far and away the largest cable operator in the Macon DMA, notified Register that it plans to continue paying for WPGA under its retrans agreement, but will not carry the station on Channel 6, where it has been for 15 years – or anywhere else on its system, for that matter. The new ABC affiliate is in line to get the basic tier Channel 6 and digital Channel 706 positions currently occupied by WPGA.
“They’re trying to buy me off,” Register charged. But he says the small retrans payments won’t compensate for the lost viewing and he fears the TV station will go out of business in short order if it’s not on the market’s main cable system. If the retrans agreement stands, as interpreted by Cox, it would be a year and nine months before Register could elect must carry.
At this point, Register’s attorneys in DC and Georgia are looking at what options he may have. The broadcaster is taking his case directly to the local community, using WPGA-TV and his three local radio stations to urge viewers and listeners to contact Cox and demand that they not be deprived of the local TV signal. He also plans to promote Dish Network, which does carry WPGA on its local-to-local satellite service in the Macon DMA.
RBR-TVBR observation: We are expecting to see other situations where the major networks drop affiliates perceived to be weak players to cut deals with market dominators who promise strong local news programming to put a second major network on a digital multicast channel – and maybe a cash payment for the affiliation. WPGA is likely just one of the first in what may become a trend. But the idea of a cable system paying retrans for a station it is not carrying is pretty amazing! Still, it’s a cautionary tale for other broadcasters to prepare for all possible scenarios when wording retrans contracts.