Mediacom Communications is trying to lessen the blow of its ongoing retransmission consent spat with Granite Broadcasting, hosting its second NHL Stanley Cup Finals viewing party this Saturday for fans in tiny Chillicothe, Ill.
Granite’s NBC stations in Fort Wayne, Ind., Duluth, Minn., and Peoria, Ill. went dark to Mediacom customers on June 1 after the parties could not reach an agreement. There are about 10,000 to 15,000 residents in Chillicothe, located north of Peoria, and the surrounding communities.
The NHL Stanley Cup Finals, pitting the Chicago Black Hawks against the Tampa Bay Lightning, kicked off on June 3 with the Black Hawks winning 2-1. The second game is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Saturday June 6 on NBC.
Games Three and Four of the Finals are being aired on NBC Sports Network, so Mediacom customers can watch them at home. The Best-of-7 series returns to NBC broadcast for Games Five through Seven, if needed.
Mediacom Lincoln Region senior manager of marketing and sales James Friske said the first viewing party was held at a local bar and restaurant (Castaways) in Chillicothe and attracted about 45 or 50 customers, who were treated to snacks, appetizers and giveaways for Black Hawks merchandise, including team jerseys, hats and T-shirts. Friske said he expects a bigger turnout on Saturday, given there is more lead time to promote the party and several big community events – including a large softball tournament – are taking place that same weekend.
“For a small population town it becomes one of the biggest events of the year.” Friske said.
Other cable operators have held similar events during broadcast or cable network blackouts when the fall around major sporting events – as they often do –and this isn’t the first time that Mediacom has had to host a viewing party. But Friske said that in addition to providing a little extra good will to customers , it is also an opportunity for the cable company to get to know its subscribers a little better.
Friske said he spoke with several customers during the first viewing party, adding that while they weren’t particularly happy with the blackout, they understood why it was happening.
“It’s a great opportunity to talk with more customers that you don’t see on a day to day basis,” Friske said.
Mediacom has said that Granite has asked for rate increases of more than 100% to renew its carriage agreement, costs that would be passed directly to their customers.
On its website, Granite says that it has successfully negotiated with other cable, satellite and telco providers.
“We will continue to negotiate with Mediacom,” Granite said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we do not know if, or when, an agreement will be reached. In the meantime, we hope you will continue supporting local television and watch us through alternative means including free over the air service via antenna, through DirectTV, Dish Network or another cable provider.”
The dispute comes as Granite is winding through a sale process with Quincy, Ill.-based Quincy Newspapers. Quincy agreed in February to acquire three Granite stations – WISE-TV Fort Wayne, Ind. (NBC); WBNG-TV (CBS/CW) Binghamton, N.Y.; WEEK-TV, (NBC) Peoria; and KJBR-TV, (NBC) Duluth. – for $191 million. That deal is still expected to close by the end of the year.
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