Mediacom: Mediation With Sinclair Has Yet To Yield Deal - Broadcasting & Cable

Mediacom: Mediation With Sinclair Has Yet To Yield Deal

FCC has been pressured by Congress to step in and mandate carriage while it considers complaint
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Related:
FCC Preserves Retrans 'Good Faith' Provision

A
Mediacom spokesman confirmed that the cable operator held a negotiation session
in Washington Monday with a
third-party mediator--"from outside the FCC"--in an attempt to
resolve, so far without success, their retransmission consent dispute with
Sinclair.

Why
Washington? "That is where
the mediator is," said the spokesman.

He
said the mediation ended "unsuccessfully," adding: "We are still
trying to negotiate a deal with Sinclair."

The
FCC has been under pressure from Congress
to step in and mandate Mediacom
carriage of Sinclair stations while it considers a retrans complaint by
Mediacom that Sinclair was not negotiating in good faith.  The flap involves two stations in Cedar
Rapids, Iowa: KGAN, Sinclair's
CBS affiliate, as well the Fox affiliate KFXA, which Sinclair operates under a
local marketing agreement. 

That
Capitol Hill interest is driven in part by the fact that constituents could
lose cable access to college football bowl games slated for early January,
including the national championship Jan. 7 and the FedEx Orange Bowl Jan. 4
between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

The
current retrans deal expires Dec. 31.

Time
Warner Cable and Fox also are currently in retrans negotiations on a deal that
expires Dec. 31 and that threatens to deny some viewers cable access to college
bowl games, including in New York.
Sen.
John Kerry (D-Mass.) has called on the companies
to resolve it for the
emotional well-being of sports fans. The TWC-Fox negotiations have been
expected to carry on into the wee hours of the holiday (Related:
Cover Story: Retrans...The Bloody Battle to Save Broadcast Television
).

The
FCC has historically not stepped in to force carriage in retrans disputes. By
contrast, there have been several instances of viewers losing access to TV
station signals for a time due to stalled negotiations.

During
a dispute between Time Warner and Disney back in 2000 that resulted in ABC
programming going dark, then Democratic FCC Chairman William Kennard did say
that consumers should not be held hostage to retrans disputes and that
"this should never happen again."

But
one veteran cable attorney said there could be a new argument for FCC
intervention driven by the transition to digital. "There is a changed
circumstance from that retrans round," he said. "I would argue that
there is a basis for the commission to get involved more than they did before
because they implemented by Congressional edict a digital transition to make it
harder for people to get the signal on a television except by pay TV. To say
they have no greater responsibility when people lose signals is not that
convincing an argument."

But
the government also spent $1.5 billion or so to make sure over-the-air viewers
could get a picture. "If you are a cable customer, particularly in a place
like New York City, where you
typically wouldn't be getting an over-the-air signal because of the problems
with over-the air reception, why would I have spent any money to get a
converter box as a backup."

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