News Ticker

Mediacom-Media General retrans dispute stokes policy debate

When the retransmission consent issue heats up in Washington, there is almost always a political poster child. This time, it’s the fee dispute between Media General and Mediacom Communications, that resulted in a blackout Tuesday of TV stations in 14 markets.

The standoff comes just as the Federal Communications Commission prepares to open up a Congressionally mandated proceeding to review what negotiating in “good faith” means.

Of course, both companies are quick to blame the other for bad faith negotiations, giving both sides of the dispute, something to leverage with policymakers.

The National Association of Broadcasters warned the FCC last week that pay TV companies were going to manufacture disputes to win over policymakers that the retrans regime needs to be changed.

Mediacom charged Media General with using nasty tactics to wring “double the money” out of Mediacom, by pulling its stations right before the MLB All-Star game on Fox, blacking out the game on three stations in Norfolk, Va.; Topeka, Kans., and Terre Haute, Ind.

“Media General and its predecessor companies…are known for their cutthroat practices and anti-consumer behavior,” Mediacom wrote Wednesday in a letter to its customers. “Since 2008, they have blacked out their stations over 75 times.”

Media General shot back that Mediacom had no intention of reaching a deal before the contract expired. “Instead of looking out for the best interest of their subscribers, they have created this dispute to draw more attention to their legislative agenda,” said Richard Levine, head of distribution for Media General, echoing the NAB’s argument to the FCC.

As to the price increases, Levine said, those “have no basis in fact. We will continue to negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement that is based upon fair market value….We hope Mediacom will put in as much effort into reaching an agreement with us as they are into posturing for reform,” Levine said.

Mediacom has been after the FCC for years to reform retrans policy. Just recently, Mediacom CEO Rocco Commisso weighed in at the FCC, accusing the agency of stalling on the issue.

Broadcast retransmission fees have been steadily rising, per data from SNL Kagan, projected to reach $10.3 billion by 2021. Overall, however, broadcast retransmission fees are only about 13 percent of the total carriage fees pay TV providers pay.