Sinclair, Time Warner Cable on Brink of Retrans Dispute

No countdown to the new year would be complete without a retransmission standoff.

This year, the one to watch is between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Time Warner Cable. In the latest salvo, Sinclair issued a statement Tuesday (Dec. 28) that Time Warner has refused to engage in further negotiations.

Not so, said Time Warner Cable in a dueling statement. “Time Warner Cable has at no time told Sinclair that we were terminating negotiations,” the company said.

Given that kind of posturing, it’s looking increasingly likely that come Dec. 31, Sinclair’s 33 stations previously cleared by TWC will go dark, affecting about 4 million subscribers.

According to Sinclair, TWC turned down Sinclair’s latest offer of 10 cents per subscriber and refused to provide a financial counterproposal. The fee, Sinclair explained, was equal to or less than the fee agreed to by every other major cable and satellite provider with which Sinclair has completed retransmission negotiations during the past two years. It was also less than what cable channels such as ESPN, TNT, Disney Channel and Fox News get.

“We simply do not understand why Time Warner insists on being treated better than its competition,” said Barry Faber, evp and general counsel for Sinclair.

Time Warner said it has presented Sinclair with at least three possible solutions, including arbitration for Sinclair’s major network affiliates with CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox.

If there is a blackout (and it’s looking like that will be the case), TWC has an agreement with News Corp. to carry Fox network programming, which could help ease the pain for TWC subscribers.

How Sinclair and Time Warner resolve or fail to resolve their differences will get plenty of attention from the Federal Communications Commission, which announced plans recently to open a proceeding on retransmission consent negotiation rules. The item is expected to end up on an FCC agenda some time in the new year.

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