Buckeye Challenges Sinclair At FCC

In an effort to get back to the negotiating table, Buckeye Cablevision has filed a complaint with the FCC against Sinclair, alleging it has not been negotiating in good faith. Sinclair says the charge is meritless.

Sinclair's NBC affiliate WNWO-TV has been off Buckeye's Toledo system for two months, the cable operator points out in the complaint, saying it is due to the "exorbitant demands and bad faith bargaining tactics" of the broadcaster.

Sinclair bought the station last fall and Buckeye says it tried to force Buckeye to carry its planned - but not yet launched - cable channels. A Buckeye spokesperson said Sinclair did not specify what channels, but Sinclair has signaled its plan to expand the regional NewsChannel 8 cable news net it is trying to buy as part of the Allbritton station group purchase still being vetted by the FCC.

Buckeye says Sinclair unilaterally stopped negotiating Feb. 7 while progress was being made. "[J]ust three hours after making an offer, Buckeye received a 'terse, three sentence email' from Sinclair saying that negotiations are 'at an end,'" the complaint alleges.

Buckeye also claimed that Sinclair is asking twice as much as other network affiliates even though it is "frequently the lowest-rated major network affiliate in Toledo," and says that requiring it to carry unlaunched cable nets is a "perversion of retransmission consent."

Many cable nets in the early days were built on the quid pro quo of bundled TV station and co-owned cable channel negotiations, but usually those did not also include cash for the station signal.

"Their claims are completely baseless and without merit and we will respond to their filing in due course," Sinclair said in a statement.

Buckeye Cablevision Chairman Alan Block, who also owns TV stations, told B&C last week that he understands that MVPDs in many instances will and should be paying for station signals, but that those payments should be negotiated in a free market, which he says retrans is not. Block says MVPD's have their hands tied behind their back, while broadcasters have an artificial advantage, as he says Sinclair has in Toledo.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.