Media General blacks out stations on Mediacom in 14 markets

Media General has blacked out 16 stations in 14 markets on Mediacom's cable system after failing to come to a broadcast retransmission renewal agreement with the MSO.

The blackout includes affiliate stations from each of the Big Four broadcast networks, including stations ranging from CBS affiliate KIMT-TV in Mason City, Iowa, to Bay Area CW affiliate KRON-TV.

The blackout caused Mediacom customers in three impacted markets to miss the Major League Baseball All-Star game, which was shown on Fox Tuesday night. 

"Our station is an important asset to the local community. We only want what is fair, so we can continue to serve our viewers," said Ken Freedman, VP and GM of Davenport, Iowa NBC affiliate KWQC-TV, in a statement. "We have reached fair agreements with all other major cable, satellite and (television) providers and we will continue negotiating in hopes of reaching an agreement with Mediacom."

Reads a statement on Mediacom's website: "After extensive negotiations toward a new agreement, Media General is still demanding more than double the per subscriber price paid under the prior contract."

In a statement, the MSO noted that Media General and its predecessor companies, LIN Media and Young Broadcasting, have blacked out more than 75 stations since 2008.

For its part, Mediacom has also been the subject of a number of retrans-related blackouts--most recently, Granite Broadcasting kept three Midwestern NBC affiliates off the MSO's program guide. 

Mediacom did receive support from cable industry groups. 

"Media General is holding the Major League Baseball All Star Game and dozens of other favorite shows for ransom in a naked ploy to get consumers to pay higher TV fees," noted the cable-backed American TV Alliance. "Media General should be ashamed that they are depriving kids in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Terre Haute and Topeka the opportunity to watch their favorite ballplayers compete in one of America's most beloved sporting events. Tens of thousands of TV fans in other cities won't get to see their favorite shows on CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox."

Added the American Cable Association: "Media General's 14-market blackout of Mediacom demonstrates yet again that federal retransmission consent rules are broken and harming consumers, many of whom suddenly lost access to baseball's All-Star game aired on Fox stations last night. ACA believes that TV station owners should not be allowed to punish consumers by pulling their signals from companies like Mediacom just moments before a marquee programming event like the Midsummer Classic in Cincinnati."

Hanging over Media General's battle with Mediacom is the prospect that the FCC could wade into such retrans negotiations. Indeed, Mediacom's CEO urged the FCC to do just that in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler earlier this month.

But the National Association of Broadcasters warned the FCC that blackouts like the one between Media General and Mediacom are more geared toward getting the FCC involved in the issue, rather than as part of standard negotiations. "Some in the pay TV industry appear to have developed a strategy of manufacturing retransmission consent disputes to spur the government to regulate more heavily in this arena," the NAB wrote in a recent FCC filing. "The Commission should thus not be surprised by an uptick in pay TV-manufactured disputes as it launches its Section 103 proceeding. The Commission should keep a close eye on this trend, as bad actors should not be rewarded with government assistance, especially when those actions come, yet again, at consumers' expense."

For more:
- read this Quad City Business Journal story

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