Local television broadcaster TEGNA is at the center of another carriage dispute.
This time around, it involves Mediacom Communications, the country’s fifth-largest cable TV provider.
More than a dozen TEGNA-owned local stations across 11 stations went dark on Mediacom’s cable TV systems just before midnight on January 1 after both companies failed to reach a new agreement for distribution of the channels.
The affected stations include San Diego CBS affiliate KFMB (Channel 8) as well as CW affiliate KFMB-DT2 (Channel 8.2). The other stations affected are:
- WZDX (Channel 54, Fox) in Huntsville, Alabama
- KPNX (Channel 12, NBC) in Phoenix, Arizona
- KMSB (Channel 11, Fox) in Tucson, Arizona
- KTTU (Channel 18, MyNet) in Tucson, Arizona
- WMAZ (Channel 13, CBS) in Macon, Georgia
- WMAZ-DT2 (Channel 13.2, CW) in Macon, Georgia
- WHAS (Channel 11, ABC) in Louisville, Kentucky
- WQAD (Channel 8, ABC) in Davenport, Iowa
- WOI-TV (Channel 5, ABC) in Des Moines, Iowa
- KCWI-TV (Channel 23, CW) in Ames, Iowa
- KARE (Channel 11, NBC) in Minneapolis, Minnesota
- KSDK (Channel 5, NBC) in St. Louis, Missouri
- WWL-TV (Channel 4, CBS) in New Orleans, Louisiana
- WVEC (Channel 13, ABC) in Newport News, Virginia
Mediacom said it offered to pay a “significant” increase in re-transmission fees to keep the stations on its systems beyond December 31, 2020.
“We want to assure you that the decision to blackout your channels was not made by Mediacom,” the cable company said in a statement to customers. “Under federal law, we can’t carry a station unless the owner grants us permission to do so.”
That’s only somewhat true: Federal law allows broadcasters like TEGNA the option of demanding a cable company carry its signal, a move known as “must carry.” But to do this, the broadcaster gives up the right to seek licensing fees paid for the distribution of its broadcast signals.
Independent and low-power television stations typically invoke the “must-carry” rule because they earn the bulk of their revenue through commercial advertisements, paid programming or other means. But larger broadcasters like TEGNA that affiliate with networks like NBC, ABC, CBS or Fox typically take the other approach: Requiring distributors like Mediacom to pay for the right to offer their signals to cable customers.
When both sides can’t agree on a price, the distributor is forced to remove the channels. The disputes have become increasingly common in recent years as programmers demand more in fees for carriage on cable and satellite systems. Cable and satellite companies have resisted these efforts because the higher fees are often passed along to consumers in the form of higher bills, which leads customers to drop cable and satellite TV packages for cheaper offerings found elsewhere.
In December, TEGNA pulled its five dozen local broadcast stations from AT&T’s DirecTV and U-Verse systems after demanding what AT&T called the “largest rate increase ever.” The move left millions of viewers in several broadcast markets without the ability to watch NFL telecasts and other events on their TEGNA-owned local stations.
TEGNA said it was simply asking for what it considers to be a fair value for the stations, though a TEGNA spokesperson repeatedly ignored questions from The Desk when asked for specifics about what the broadcast company was demanding distributors like DirecTV pay for their signals.
I've asked @ATT to explain if TEGNA's demand for "the largest rate increase we've ever seen" was ultimately met.
It's not fair consumers get dragged through a retrans fight for weeks only to be told that "terms of the deal were not disclosed." https://t.co/W90W9PcDEj
— Matthew Keys (@MatthewKeysLive) December 20, 2020
This week, TEGNA again said it was merely asking Mediacom to pay what it thinks is fair for the signals.
“We are committed to reaching a fair, market-based agreement with all the video service providers in our area,” a TEGNA spokesperson said in a statement posted online. “Our track record proves it. Over the past few years, we’ve reached hundreds of multi-year deals with cable and satellite companies all across the country, including Comcast, Spectrum and many others. It is disappointing that Mediacom has refused to reach an agreement.”