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Mediacom-Sinclair Spat Heats Up

11/02/2006 6:43 AM Eastern

The retransmission-consent dispute between Mediacom Communications and Sinclair Broadcast Group is ratcheting up (www.multichannel.com/article/CA6387051.html), with the TV-station owner expanding its offer to hand out rebates to cable subscribers who switch over to DirecTV.

Sinclair has already been telling Mediacom customers in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that they can get $150 rebates for moving over to direct-broadcast satellite by Dec. 1. That’s when the cable operator will lose carriage of the broadcaster’s stations in those cities -- namely Fox affiliate KDSM in Des Moines and CBS affiliate KGAN in Cedar Rapids.

And Friday, Sinclair plans to extend a similar offer -- this one for a $100 rebate -- to Mediacom subscribers in a number of the just over one-dozen other markets where the broadcaster’s stations are going to be pulled off cable, Sinclair general counsel Barry Faber said Thursday.

Exactly which of those other markets -- which range from Mobile, Ala., to Nashville, Tenn., and St. Louis -- Sinclair will extend the $100 rebate to was being finalized.

For the $150 rebates in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Mediacom subscribers will get $10 off their DirecTV bills for 15 months. In the other markets impacted by the retransmission-consent squabble, Mediacom subscribers can get their $100 rebates in the form of $10 credits on their DirecTV bills for 10 months, according to Faber.

Mediacom claimed that Sinclair is seeking “millions of dollars” in payments in order to continue carrying the broadcaster’s stations.

During their third-quarter conference calls this week, officials at Mediacom and Sinclair both talked with analysts about their retransmission-consent battle. Roughly 800,000 of Mediacom’s 1.4 million subscribers could lose stations owned by Sinclair, with the cable operator already notifying these customers that they may not be getting those stations come Dec. 1.

During its call Wednesday, Sinclair executives used fiery language when discussing their dispute with Mediacom and the cable operator’s attempts to get the courts and Federal Communications Commission to intervene.

“I think it’s unfortunate that a big company like Mediacom, as big as they are, has chosen to essentially walk away from the negotiating table to attempt to use the federal court as an arbitrator to solve their problems for them,” Sinclair CEO David Smith said.

Sinclair also announced Thursday that the Federal Appeals Court for the Eighth Circuit will not rule on Mediacom’s request for an injunction against Sinclair until well after the Dec. 1 deadline for the removal of Sinclair’s stations from Mediacom’s systems.

According to a scheduling order released by the court, it contemplates briefs being filed as late as Jan. 24.

During Mediacom’s call Thursday, chairman Rocco Commisso said Sinclair broke off negotiations Sept. 28.

Smith, noting that Mediacom subscribers will be losing popular programming like House, also told analysts during his call, “People are just not going to sit still for that.” He claimed that Mediacom officials are “setting themselves up for all kinds of horrendous public-relations issues.”

On Tuesday, Mediacom filed an emergency retransmission-consent complaint with the FCC asking the agency to intercede and force Sinclair to negotiate in good faith.

And last week, a U.S. District Court judge refused to issue an injunction to stop Sinclair from pulling its stations from Mediacom. The cable operator is still proceeding with the antitrust suit it filed against Sinclair.

September