Stations Mean Business on Retrans1/05/2003 07:00:00 PM Eastern
Cable operators and broadcast stations mostly dodged year-end bullets over retransmission consent, but one CBS affiliate in Macon, Ga., went dark on several local systems on New Year's Day.
Mid-sized and small station groups are increasingly agitating for cash payments from cable operators. The biggest companies—Fox, Disney and NBC, seem to be happy using rights to carry their stations signals to expand their cable networks. But smaller groups say that past deals for promotion, slots for a news channel or better channel positions aren't sufficient.
In the biggest fight, Comcast sued McGraw-Hill's Denver station KMGH-TV to keep the ABC affiliate on the MSO's local systems after their last retransmision consent agreement expired Dec. 31. McGraw-Hill had sought an analog slot for a local news channel, but Comcast countered with a digital slot that has more limited distribution. KMGH blinked and the two sides reached a tentative agreement to keep the station on Comcast systems.
Gannett's WMAZ-TV Macon, Ga., found no such reprieve, but went dark only on systems serving 6,000 subscribers. From larger operators, Gannett has been seeking carriage of a new national news channel, America Today, which would be filled with reports from Gannett's local TV stations. But from the small systems, Gannett wanted 75 cents to $1 per month per subscriber.
Cox is the largest operator in the market. In exchange for retransmission rights to WMAZ-TV and stations in three other Cox markets, Gannett wants carriage of the America Today throughout all of is systems serving 6.3 million subscribers.
Several Nexstar stations, including Texas stations KTAB-TV in Abilene and KMID(TV) in Midland, went right down to the wire seeking 10 cents to 25 cents per subscriber with last-minute extensions keeping the stations from being bumped from several cable lineups including Cox's Midland System.
Duane Lammers, COO at Nexstar Broadcasting, said that in several end-of-the-year negotiations there were favorable terms, but added that some deals were short-term and allowed the stations "to protect our long term goals. They do not set some new standard for the industry." Confidentiality agreements, he said, barred him from revealing terms.
"But we got something of value from all these contracts," he said. "We didn't do any deals on what I call 'the old TCI' plan'; promotional material or bill-stuffers."