Operators Balk at Station Bundling

Two of the country's largest cable companies, Media­com and Time Warner Cable, are bracing for possible showdowns with major TV-station groups over carriage of local broadcast stations.

Mediacom, the country's eighth-largest system operator, filed an antitrust lawsuit Oct. 6 against Sinclair Broadcast Group, alleging that Sinclair is demanding compensation for a bundle of its stations in 16 markets, rather than individual deals.

“We believe this all-or-nothing scheme violates antitrust law,” Mediacom CEO Rocco Commisso says in a statement.

Sinclair has been among the most outspoken about its desire to get cash in return for carriage of its stations.

Meanwhile, in a less antagonistic situation, Time Warner Cable, the No. 2 cable company, and station owner Pappas Telecasting are haggling over carriage of Pappas-owned stations in four markets.

Pappas is seeking analog carriage for two digital stations, a CW affiliate in Yuma, Ariz., and a MyNetworkTV outlet in El Paso, Texas. So far, Time Warner is offering the stations on its digital tier but wants some compensation for the widely distributed analog package. The cable operator is facing similar demands from other station owners, including Clear Channel, that operate CW and MNT affiliates on their multicast channels and want widespread cable delivery, which Time Warner is resisting.

A Time Warner spokesman says talks are progressing and the company is “hopeful and expects to reach an agreement” with Pappas.

And while Mediacom awaits a response from Sinclair, it faces much higher stakes. About half of Mediacom subscribers live in markets where Sinclair owns or operates affiliates, and a disruption of service would be more widespread.

The cable company first revealed the wrangling with Sinclair in an SEC filing in late September. According to Media­com, Sinclair said it would notify the cable operator on or before Oct. 15 of its intent to terminate retransmission of its stations on Dec. 1. Sinclair typically negotiates its carriage deals on a monthly basis. Mediacom has long-term carriage deals with more than 42 station owners that operate in its markets.

Sinclair executives did not return calls for comment.