Retrans: Sinclair and Bright House Make Peace, DirecTV and Northwest Impasse Continues

MULTIPLE CITIES: Sinclair Broadcasting today buried the hatchet with another pay TV carrier over retransmission consent, while a stand-off between DirecTV and Northwest Broadcasting dragged on.

Hunt Valley, Md., Sinclair entered a multi-year agreement with Bright House Networks, based in Syracuse, N.Y., for carriage of six TV stations in four markets, the broadcaster said today. The arrangement between the two was previously covered by Sinclair’s agreement with Time Warner Cable, former owner of Bright House systems, which has 2.4 million subscribers.

The Sinclair stations in the Bright House deal include WTTA-TV, a MyNetwork affiliate in Tampa, Fla.; WEAR- and WFGX-TV, the ABC and MyNet in Mobile, Ala./Pensacola, Fla.; NBC affiliate WTWC-TV in Tallahassee, Fla.; and WABM- and WTTO-TV, the MyNet and CW in Birmingham, Ala..

Sinclair last week announced it reached an “agreement in principle” with Time Warner for 28 TV stations. The two have been negotiating in overtime since New Year’s Eve, when the previous contract expired. That contract is now being left in place through Feb. 21 while the two hammer out a formal agreement.

In other retrans territory, a stalemate between DirecTV and Northwest Broadcasting persists. The El Segundo, Calif., satellite TV provider issued a statement on Friday saying “both sides seem to be spinning our wheels at the moment.” Northwest, based in Okemos, Mich., pulled signals for five TV stations in New York, Oregon, Washington and Texas from DirecTV Jan. 1. The fur has flown ever since.

“Negotiating through the media and issuing press releases every day will not get a deal done,” read the statement, attributed to DirecTV’s Dan Hartman, senior vice president of programming acquisitions. “. . . We ask Northwest to restore their channels and to let an independent arbitrator resolve this matter.”

Hartman said DirecTV has hammered out retrans deals with seven broadcast groups for 90 stations in 71 markets over the past two months.

Northwest Broadcasting’s CEO Brian Brady told the Southern Oregon Mail Tribune that DirecTV was offering less for Northwest TV stations than others around the country. The same article noted a hole in recently renewed distant-signal rules that enabled DirecTV to provide a Los Angeles Fox affiliate to some subscribers in the KMVU-TV viewing area in Medford, Ore.

Retransmission negotiations have grown so strident and voluble over the last year that the Federal Communications Commission has indicated its intention to review its rules on the subject. FCC Media Bureau chief Bill Lake said in December that a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on retransmission consent would be issued during the first quarter of this year. It was not, however, listed on Jan. 25 agenda nor the tentative agenda for the commission’s February open meeting. An FCC spokeswoman said no new information on the item was available.
--Deborah D. McAdams