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Retrans Talks Down to Wire

Broadcasters and cable operators closed last-minute retransmission-consent deals just prior to New Year's Eve, while other agreements were expected to expire by end of day on Dec. 31.

At press time last week, Fisher Communications' nine stations remained off the Dish Network lineup as part of a retransmission-consent dispute, with the threat of other signals getting pulled off the satellite provider — and potentially off cable systems as well — come the kickoff of 2009.

It was unclear how widespread potential station drops might turn out to be, with Dish Network and a number of cable companies declining to comment on where they stood.

Charlie Ergen's Dish Network dropped Fisher's Pacific Northwest stations Dec. 18, after their prior agreement expired. But many retransmission-consent deals are on a three-year cycle that was set to end Dec. 31. For example, Communications Corp. of America was threatening to pull its Louisiana and Texas stations from Dish come the new year, which marks the end of their old contract.

But other distributors and broadcasters made retransmission-consent progress in the final days of 2008. Cable One and Meredith Broadcasting's CBS affiliate in Phoenix, KPHO-TV, reached an agreement in principle on a new deal last week, according to Cable One spokeswoman Melany Stroupe.

“We have a deal,” she said, while declining to comment on the terms of the agreement.

KPHO had made a new offer to Cable One last Monday, and the operator responded. The station had threatened to pull its signal if a new deal wasn't reached by Dec. 31.

“We still have to vet out the particulars of the contract, but I would say that this one is not going to the point where they pull our signal off,” KPHO general manager Ed Munson said. “This one it would appear will be worked out, but again it could fall apart in the lawyers vetting the contract, which is what's happening right now … [but] I'm pretty optimistic on this one.”

Also last week, Charter Communications announced it had reached a retransmission-consent agreement in principle with Belo for more than a dozen TV stations, covering their analog and digital signals. They include: KMOV-TV in St. Louis; WFAA-TV in Dallas/Fort Worth; WWL-TV and WUPL-TV in New Orleans; WCNC-TV in Charlotte, N.C.; KGW-TV in Portland, Ore.; KING-TV and KONG-TV in Seattle/Tacoma, Wash.; and KHOU-TV in Houston, Texas. The pact also covers carriage of two of Belo's 24-hour news channels, Northwest Cable News and Texas Cable News.

The broadcaster had been seeking cash compensation for its stations, with KMOV telling viewers it was looking for a penny a day per subscriber, or about $1.6 million a year.

On a corporate level, last week Gray Television said it had reached additional retransmission-consent agreements in principle with substantially all of its large cable operators, completing a total of 27 such deals involving about 3.3 million cable subscribers. In addition, the broadcaster said it had reached numerous agreements in principle with smaller cable operators.

Gray said that the most recent deals with large cable operators, and a number of completed cable and satellite agreements, are anticipated to provide about $11 million of incremental cash retransmission-consent revenue during 2009, with $3 million expected this year.

Also at press time, Raycom Media's CBS affiliate WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge, La., told viewers on its Web site that Cox Communications had “plans to remove” it midnight Dec. 31. Cox couldn't be reached for comment.