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Sinclair, Mediacom Agree To Interim Carriage Agreement

and Mediacom have agreed to an eight-day interim carriage agreement.

deal is at terms set by Sinclair, according to a Mediacom source, and at a
price higher than the current one.

Chairman Julius Genachowski, who praised the move Thursday, urged the parties
to strike a long-term deal, but said the FCC would not step in to extend
carriage past that Jan. 8 date. He also said he had asked Fox and Time Warner
to follow suit and agree to an extension.

carriage contracts are set to expire Dec. 31. The extension protects Mediacom
subscribers' access to a bunch of college bowl games, including the Jan. 4
Orange Bowl and Jan. 7 national championship game. The extension affects 24
stations and viewers in 12 states.

viewers are very important to us and we responded to their interest in being
able to watch, via Mediacom, programs meaningful to them over the next eight
days," said Sinclair EVP and General Counsel Barry Faber in announcing the
extension. "We recognize that several of the impacted markets have college
teams that will be playing in the BCS Bowl games. Although our stations are
available for free over-the-air and from Mediacom's competitors, we thought it
was important to ensure that our viewers had the opportunity to see those games
without inconvenience."

pleased that the Orange Bowl and national championship game can't be held
hostage any longer," said Mediacom spokesman Tom Larsen. "We're going
to continue to work with Sinclair and the FCC and all the politicians who have
weighed in and try to get a deal done in eight days."

commend Sinclair and Mediacom for agreeing to an eight-day extension of their
retransmission consent agreement, which was set to expire tonight," said
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. "This extension, to midnight Jan. 8,
2010, will avert the frustration that Mediacom customers would have experienced
if Sinclair stations had ceased to be available over Mediacom systems at
midnight tonight. It will give Sinclair and Mediacom additional time to resolve
their negotiations successfully, as hundreds of other broadcasters and cable
companies have done throughout the country, so that viewers will have
uninterrupted access to popular broadcast programming," he said.

have been increasingly arguing that their signals deserve cash payments and
ones more in line with what top cable nets receive. Certainly the attention
paid by Capitol Hill to the potential loss of college bowl games suggests the
signals are valuable, though must-have sports, including bowl games, are
increasingly moving to cable platforms.

hope and expect that the parties will use this extension to come to terms by
the January 8 expiration date," Genachowski said. "But at the end of
the day, the companies will have to accept shared responsibility for protecting
their audience's interests, as the current framework governing retransmission
consent agreements contemplates.  Assuming that the parties negotiate in
good faith during the extension, therefore, I will not seek a further
continuation of carriage absent a new agreement between the parties."

was fine with Faber: "We applaud the FCC 's message to Mediacom not to
expect government intervention if the parties are unable, through the exercise
of good faith negotiations, to reach agreement during the 8-day
extension," he said.

The Genachwoski
reference to "good faith" is important, however. Mediacom complained
to the FCC that Sinclair was not bargaining in good faith, and asked for an
emergency carriage mandate while it considered the complaint. It could
still mandate carriage if it concluded Mediacom had made its case.

was also looking to make sure that the Time Square ball was the only thing
dropped at midnight--The Time Warner/Fox retrans deal includes New York.

have urged Fox and Time Warner Cable to agree to a temporary extension of
carriage if they do not come to terms on a new carriage agreement today,"
added Genachwoski, "in order to prevent disruption to their viewers.
Companies shouldn't force cable-watching football fans to scramble for other
means of TV delivery on New Year's weekend," Genachowski said.

The Sinclair
extension came not long after Mediacom circulated a letter to Sen. John Kerry
(D-Mass.) dated Dec. 31, saying the cable operator late Thursday night got a
"tentative indication" from Sinclair that "they might consider a
very short-term extension of our agreement." Cmmisso gave Kerry credit for
prompting the thaw.

could have pulled its TV station signals from Mediacom systems at midnight
tonight absent a retransmission consent deal that has yet to materialize.

has been asking for more than Mediacom is willing to pay, but the cable
operator offered to pay that contested price for a three-month period while
negotiations continued. That would have kept the signals on the systems through
the college bowl game blitz of early January as well as the Super Bowl. Kerry
has been actively pushing the parties to resolve the disputes.

countered that it would agree to a year extension at its asking price, but that
the three-month extension would shift leverage to Mediacom because of its
inclusion of some of that must-have programming. The retrans deal impasse has
been for a year contract, anyway, so Sinclair was effectively countering with
its standing offer.

said he remained optimistic that a long-term deal could be done.

John Eggerton
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.