WPGA Losing Affiliation, Cable Partner

Retrans at heart of both spats; "last of the local affiliates" on last legs
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It appears WPGA Macon will look a lot different in two weeks' time. Cable provider Cox Communications is dropping the ABC outlet after WPGA's affiliation agreements end on Jan. 1, 2010. WPGA is splitting from ABC because it refuses to cough up what the owner calls outrageous retransmission consent payments, and because of what it deems risqué fare on the network in prime.

The station is owned by Register Communications. President Lowell Register claims both snafus are a case of a small family-owned broadcaster being shoved aside by big business outfits. He says ABC compensated the station a modest amount for about 15 years, then announced it wanted a hefty sum for Register to continue its ABC affiliation in DMA #122.

"We certainly don't have the wherewithal to pay the fees they're demanding," a frustrated Register said. "We're a small family local TV station. We're not in a position to pay hundreds of thousands a year for the right to air ABC programming."

ABC has increasingly been pushing affiliates to cough up retrans cash as part of their affiliation agreements.

An ABC spokesperson said it was the network's policy to never discuss negotiations.

WPGA's carriage and affiliation woes were previously reported in the Macon Telegraph. Its Macon.com site reported that Cox ran a legal notice in the daily paper last week informing local viewers that it would continue to broadcast ABC programming on WPGA's cable channel placement, 6, beginning next year, and that WGXA, the Fox affiliate, is closing a deal with ABC to carry ABC programming as a multicast starting Jan. 1, 2010. WGXA would be rebranded WGXA ABC-16, reports the Telegraph.

Lowell Register said both developments were news to him.

Cox Director Lynn Murphey said the cable operator felt ABC programming had much more value to Cox subscribers than what WPGA would look like without the network shows, such as Grey's Anatomy and Good Morning America, come 2010. "The bottom line is, we decided to make the transition as seamless as possible for our customers," she said, "with as little confusion as possible."

Register said WPGA had been a must-carry station, but that somebody within his company neglected to file for must-carry status for the future. He's not enthused about the fate of WPGA without a carriage deal with Cox. "We're facing complete annihilation with the major cable system here," he says.

Register, who's working with DISH on a campaign to bring cable subscribers over to satellite, was more upbeat about WPGA getting by without ABC programming, since the station relies on a heavy lineup of syndicated fare, along with content from RTV and This TV. WPGA also airs three hours of news in the morning.

In an October story in the Telegraph, Register said part of the reason for the ABC-WPGA split stemmed from what he deemed inappropriate programming on ABC. "I had somebody tell me they're running a good bit of gay and lesbian stuff on it. That's really just in-your-face, so to speak, and I'm not sure that's appropriate," he told the paper. "That's happening in prime time. I'm not really happy with it."

Register said he might reach out to some allies on Capitol Hill to help him fight what he called "greedy" networks. "I'm just one of the first who's going to fall in this whole deal," he said. "The networks are going to be in the cable business. I'm the last of the local affiliates in this market."

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