However, Mediacom retains a cautious optimism that the situation isn’t permanent and that a resolution will be found.
“I certainly hope this isn’t the end for our customers’ sake,” said David Kane, Mediacom’s regional vice president.
The television giants are locked in a contractual dispute that has prompted Sinclair to pull its stations from Mediacom cable systems unless the company pays millions for the broadcaster’s services. Each company has blamed the other for the failed negotiations; however, the case may be less an isolated battle than a preview of many looming battles between broadcast stations and cable providers.
The law requires cable systems to obtain television stations’ permission to carry their programming. There are two types of permissions — must carry, in which a cable system carries programming but may put it anywhere in the channel rotation, and retransmission consent, in which the cable system and station negotiate terms. Most agreements are based on retransmission consent.
Cable companies rely on broadcast channels such as ABC, NBC and CBS as the leaders in their sales efforts. Most people wouldn’t subscribe to cable if they couldn’t get the networks, and the networks often tend to be the most popular channels. Consequently, the network stations are aiming to be paid the same way as any other cable channel.
There are 22 stations in 12 states serving approximately 700,000 customers that are affected by Sinclair’s dispute with Mediacom, which is the primary cable providers in Jackson and Macon counties.
Sinclair has been encouraging customers to sign up with DirecTV, which will discount customers’ first 10 monthly bills by $10 each. And Mediacom is providing its customers with an antennae and a switch box to allow their televisions to receive both cable and over-the-air signals. Customers may sign up to receive the antennae online or go to the new Sam’s Club in Hendersonville.
“Fortunately, we as a company made the determination to provide the antennae at no cost,” Kane said. “Hopefully, that’s all that’s required until an agreement has been reached.”
Mediacom subscribers who live more than 30 miles from a Sinclair station transmitter are out of luck though. The antennae won’t pick up the signal from that far away. In 2005, WLOS lost its lease on a piece of land in Sylva the station used for its translator site for 30 years, which means that an antennae really won’t do much good.