Sinclair Readies for Retrans Fight

Sinclair Broadcast Group is girding for a retransmission standoff with Time Warner Cable six weeks before the current agreement between the two companies expires on Dec. 31. Some 33 stations in 21 markets could go dark on TWC and Brighthouse systems in markets such as San Antonio, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Norfolk, Va.; Milwaukee, Wisc.; and Tampa, Fla., if the two companies are unable to come to terms.

Though the deadline seems far away, Sinclair isn’t taking any chances. The TV owner has posted messages on its station Web sites, run crawls on its broadcasts and placed ads in the local paper, admonishing viewers to “Learn about Time Warner Cable’s plans to drop carriage of this station.”

“We think it is important for our viewers to have as much advance notice as possible about disruptions to their service. Whether you want to receive the stations over-the-air or plan to switch your pay television provider, this can take time, and we want our viewers to have sufficient opportunity to take whatever action they choose without the risk of missing even one day of programming, particularly because of the very popular programming that will air on and after January 1, 2011. In addition, based on the current status of negotiations with Time Warner Cable, we are not optimistic about the chance that we will successfully negotiate a new deal with Time Warner Cable.”

Sinclair’s preemptive strike could be interpreted as playing hard ball by proponents of retransmission reform, the subject of a hearing scheduled Wednesday held by the Senate Communications, Technology and Internet Subcommittee.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has crafted legislation to prevent consumers from being caught in the middle when retransmission negotiations end up causing blackouts, like the recent 16-day standoff between Cablevision and Fox in New York and Philadelphia.

Included on the hearing witness list are Glenn Britt, president and CEO of Time Warner Cable; Chase Carey, deputy chairman, president and COO of News Corp.; Tom Rutledge, COO of Cablevision Systems Corp.; Joe Uva, president and CEO of Univision Communications; and Charles Segars, CEO of Ovation.