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Cablevision to FCC: WFSB Refuses to Play Nice

Cablevision Systems turned up the heat in its retransmission-consent dispute with Connecticut broadcaster WFSB last Friday, filing a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission and accusing the station of refusing to negotiate in good faith.

This is the second attempt by the cable operator to receive FCC relief in the retrans impasse. Earlier in the month it filed documents with the agency to block WFSB parent Meredith Corp.’s purchase of St. Louis TV station KMOV-TV, an off-shoot of station-owner Gannett’s $2.2 billion purchase of Belo Corp.

Connecticut-based CBS affiliate WFSB went dark to Cablevision subscribers in Litchfield and New Haven Counties on Jan. 3. Cablevision claims the broadcaster was demanding it carry the station in areas in the state outside of the two counties. The vast majority of Cablevision’s Connecticut customers watch CBS programming on New York affiliate WCBS-TV.

“The FCC should direct Meredith Corp. to immediately cease its bad-faith negotiation practices and separate the negotiations for carriage of WFSB in Litchfield and New Haven Counties from those regarding carriage in Fairfield County where there is already another CBS station,” Cablevision said in a statement. “This would lead to an agreement to return CBS programming to Cablevision customers in Litchfield and New Haven Counties.”

Cablevision claims Meredith has rejected its offers to pay its asking price for the retransmission of WFSB in Litchfield and New Haven Counties. Instead, the operator claims, the station has insisted that any deal extend to Fairfield County, currently serviced by WCBS.

Meredith chief communications officer Art Slusark called the complaint a “nuisance,” adding, “For what Cablevision is paying its high-priced New York and D.C. lawyers, Cablevision could instead be providing all of its Connecticut customers with WFSB’s award-winning local news and CBS primetime and sports programming.

“It is Cablevision that is acting in bad faith. Earlier this week, Meredith made a compelling offer that would enable Cablevision to immediately return WFSB to its customers. However, unlike other subscription television providers in the area, Cablevision refuses to compensate Meredith fair market value for carriage of WFSB’s signal to all of its Connecticut customers.”

The move by Cablevision is unlikely to draw any FCC action in the short term. Frequently, such complaints are dropped if deals are eventually struck.

John Eggerton contributed to this report.