Sinclair, Mediacom settle dispute


DES MOINES, Iowa -- Cable operator Mediacom Communications Corp. and Sinclair Broadcast Group have reached an agreement that will end a weeks-long standoff that left 700,000 cable subscribers without local channels.

In an announcement released Friday evening, Mediacom said it had reached a deal with Sinclair that will see 22 television stations restored to Mediacom's system in 12 states that have been affected by the standoff. Among those stations were KDSM-TV in Des Moines, a Fox affiliate, and KGAN-TV in Cedar Rapids, a CBS affiliate.

The stations signals were cut off on Jan. 6 after the two companies failed to negotiate a new agreement that would permit Mediacom to carry the station signals.

Iowa, with the highest number of Mediacom subscribers of all the states -- about 250,000 -- was most affected.

The agreement comes two days before Sunday's Super Bowl, which is set to be broadcast on CBS and would have been unavailable to thousands of Mediacom subscribers in eastern Iowa through their cable system.

"We're thrilled to have the channels restored, and we're thrilled that our customers will be able to watch the Super Bowl this weekend," said Tom Larsen, vice president for legal affairs at Mediacom, based in Middletown, N.Y.

Mediacom said the Sinclair stations would be back on the air immediately.

Sinclair spokesman Barry Faber did not immediately return a phone call Friday seeking comment. Sinclair is based in the Baltimore suburb of Hunt Valley, Md.

Details of the deal were not immediately disclosed but Faber has said Sinclair was asking for less than 50 cents per subscriber per month from Mediacom.

Mediacom officials predicted last week that Sinclair might be more willing to return to the bargaining table because February is a month during which television ratings services measure viewership.

The better a station's ratings, the more money it can charge for advertising.

Mediacom says Sinclair had lost more than 40 percent of its viewership on the dropped stations and that it would want to return to normal before the ratings period begins.

Industry analysts had estimated that Mediacom was losing about 5,000 customers a week.

Congress authorized television stations to negotiate with cable companies the right to retransmit their signals in the 1990s. Only recently have stations begun to insist on cash payments, however, and Sinclair has been among the most aggressive by carrying through with the threat to shut off station signals unless it was paid.

Industry analysts believe that such disagreements over cash payments could become more frequent as broadcasters hold out for money. Historically, cable systems have offered non-cash compensation to stations, which has included buying commercial time instead of paying cash.