Sinclair strikes deal to keep Comcast stations

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BALTIMORE -- Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. reached a deal Friday with Comcast Corp. to carry its stations, ending a protracted negotiation that threatened to deprive cable customers in several markets of their Fox affiliates.

The four-year deal allows Philadelphia-based Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, to continue carrying 37 Sinclair stations in 23 markets, including Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Tampa, Fla.

"Comcast has achieved its objective of not paying cash for broadcast carriage that would need to be passed on to our customers," said Jenni Moyer, a spokeswoman for the cable giant.

Barry Faber, Sinclair's vice president and general counsel, was not immediately available for comment.

The resolution was markedly different from a similar negotiation between Hunt Valley-based Sinclair and a smaller cable provider, Mediacom Communications Corp.

Sinclair blocked Mediacom from carrying its stations for several weeks while the two sides haggled over "retransmission consent" -- the permission granted by broadcasters to cable and satellite providers to carry stations that are available over the public airwaves. Mediacom ultimately began paying Sinclair to carry its stations.

Terms of the deal with Comcast were not disclosed, but like many such agreements, it includes an exchange of advertising.

"Consistent with our existing agreement with Sinclair, and all of our other retransmission consent agreements, comparable value is being exchanged," Moyer said.

Traditionally, retransmission consent deals have not involved cash, but Sinclair has begun demanding that it get paid. The company argues that its programming is far more popular than the shows on channels that cable companies pay a premium for.

Sinclair owns, programs, or provides sales services to 58 stations in 36 markets. Many of the stations carried by Comcast are Fox affiliates, and failure to reach a deal could have left "American Idol" fans in the affected markets unable to watch the popular show without an antenna or satellite.

Comcast has 24.2 million cable customers, and analysts said Sinclair had less leverage in its negotiations with Comcast than it did in the Mediacom dispute.

Sinclair has begun talks with two other cable companies -- Cox Communications Inc. and Charter Communications Inc. -- about new retransmission deals. Cox is the nation's third-largest cable provider, and Charter is the fourth largest; together, they have about 10.8 million customers.

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