Sinclair, TWC Do the Arbitration Shuffle

Here’s the latest wrinkle in the retransmission negotiations between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Time Warner Cable, which are ticking down to a Dec. 31 deadline: Sinclair offered to submit its retrans consent negotiations to arbitration, and Time Warner agreed, but with conditions. Sinclair balked at the conditions, so now both companies are back to square one.

On Monday (Dec. 13), Sinclair e-mailed Time Warner Cable asking for arbitration to cover the carriage of 33 of the company’s TV stations. TWC agreed, but only for the 16 Fox affiliates.

“We don’t believe that our customers should have to pay anything for CW and MyNetworkTV affiliates. Their programming is not as attractive to customers as other content we could be carrying in its place,” TWC said in a statement. “Sinclair’s tactics are yet another example of how the retransmission consent process is broken; broadcasters should not be able to bundle their demands and hold stations, and customers, hostage just to bolster their bottom line.”

In a Dec. 16 press release, Sinclair called TWC’s arbitration conditions “onerous.” According to Sinclair, TWC imposed several conditions on the arbitration, including limitations on what evidence an arbitration would be permitted to see.

“It is unfortunate that despite their public demands for arbitration in the event of retransmission consent impasses, when presented with a real opportunity to serve the public interest, TWC has no demonstrated no real interest in a fair arbitration process,” said Barry Faber, evp and general counsel for Sinclair.

As things stand, Sinclair said it does not expect an agreement by the Dec. 31 deadline, so a blackout is imminent with the exception of Fox network programming. A deal struck between TWC and Fox ensures that TWC will get to carry what is being called an “insurance feed” of Fox’s network programming, which includes programming such as Glee, House and the Super Bowl.

The Federal Communications Commission recently announced plans to open up a proceeding on retransmission consent negotiation rules in order to prevent blackouts.