NCTC Comes Out Against Sinclair-Tribune

Says retrans negotiation tactics are aggressive, excessive and unreasonable

Pointing out that it rarely comments in FCC proceedings, the National Cable Television Cooperative is making an exception for proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger, which it says the FCC should not approve in its current form.

NCTC, a buying cooperative that negotiates programming deals including retrans deals, for its consortium of smaller operators, says that Sinclair has already been using its size, and its anticipated deal, to extract "unreasonable and above-market terms."

NCTC says that, as the largest TV group owner, Sinclair-Tribune would set the tone and drive a trend in retrans negotiations that would hurt smaller operators and their subs. The FCC requires retrans negotiations to be in "good faith."

"While the 'good faith' rules historically have not proven to provide significant constraints on broadcasters’ conduct," NCTC says, "Sinclair’s tactics ignore even those minimal requirements."

Related: Four AG's Ask FCC to Deny Sinclair-Tribune Merger

When NCTC did not accept what it called Sinclair's unreasonable terms, the comments assert "Sinclair broke off negotiations with and imposed worse terms on members via individually proposed agreements." But it also says that "just prior to this filing," Sinclair made a "limited gesture" to "reengage with the NCTC."

NCTC also complains that the deal will give the combined company more leverage to tie non-broadcast content to TV station signal carriage, specifically Sinclair's Tennis Channel and Tribune's WGN America.

The FCC must either apply conditions to ameliorate the retrans problems--it does not specify those fixes--or not approve the deal, NCTC said.

The comments were filed Nov. 2, the deadline for an extended two-week window the FCC opened on the proposed deal after it asked Sinclair for more info on the deal. The FCC also restarted its informal shot clock on the merger review Nov. 2.

A Sinclair spokesperson declined comment, but broadcasters generally argue that their increasing retrans take is because they are finally getting the true value for their must-have signals.