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Retransmission Battles Near Dec. 31 Deadlines

MULTIPLE CITIES: Players in the most recent retransmission battles are takin’ it to the street. Mediacom today issued a statement saying Sinclair rejected an extension of retransmission talks, jeopardizing the cable operator’s access to the Jan. 5 Orange Bowl. The current retrans agreement between the two is set to expire Dec. 31.

“Mediacom proposed the three-month extension Friday to Sinclair Broadcast Group in response to a letter from University of Iowa President Sally Mason,” the statement said. “Mason urged the two sides to work out their differences, so Iowans do not miss the Fox broadcast of the Jan. 5 Orange Bowl match-up between the University of Iowa and Georgia Tech.”

Mediacom Chairman Rocco Commisso said that the company had around 1 million cable subscribers in Iowa who could miss the game.

Middletown, N.Y.-based Mediacom has been locked in battle with Sinclair, the broadcast group in suburban Baltimore, for several months. The cable operator asked the FCC to step in earlier this month to prevent Sinclair from pulling two TV stations from its systems. (See “Mediacom Asks for FCC Assistance.”) Those stations--KFXA-TV, the central Iowa Fox affiliate, and KGAN-TV, the CBS affil--are the same two cited in the Orange Bowl dispatch.

“The appearance of the Hawkeye football team in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 5 is clearly an event of significant public importance within Iowa,” Commisso said.

Sinclair reported retransmission revenues--fees paid by pay carriers for TV station signals--of $28 million in the third quarter of 2009.

Fox and Time Warner Cable also continue to grapple over retransmission fees. The current agreement between the two also ends Dec. 31. Fox has commenced its ad campaign, which Pali analyst Rich Greenfield deemed somewhat tame compared to the industry standard. However, when the folks at Pali called the Fox-recommended 1-866-Keep-Fox hotline allegedly at Time Warner Cable, they were unable to get through. Calls placed directly to Time Warner support went through immediately.

“Rather deceptive marketing, as Fox is trying to give the impression that Time Warner’s phone lines are being overwhelmed by fear of lost programming,” Greenfield said. “We suspect most TWC subscribers will not even react to the threat of lost programming until Fox begins running a scroll 24×7 at the bottom of the screen.”

Pali’s people expect programming to be pulled, and for Fox to finally walk away with at least 50 cents per subscriber per month for its TV stations, though at the “cost of weaker distribution and pricing gains for its regional sports and national cable networks.”