Taking a shot at a regulatory agency that is about to make key decisions on the future of broadcast retransmission negotiations, Sinclair Broadcast Group said the FCC did "nothing" to lead it to make a deal with Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) earlier this week that ended a record-sized TV station blackout.
"We understand the temptation for the FCC to take credit for resolving this impasse, but their intervention had nothing to do with it," said Sinclair in a statement to Katy on the Hill. "We were very close to a resolution well before Chairman Wheeler got involved. In fact, the FCC process actually delayed the resolution, because it added more issues to negotiate, which lengthened Dish's service interruption, not shortened it. And it is important to remember that our stations never went off the air in any of those markets, but were consistently available free of charge to our viewers, as well as through Dish's competitors."
After Dish and Sinclair announced a deal in principle to end the one-day blackout on Dish of 129 Sinclair Network affiliates, Wheeler released a statement lauding the agreement and adding, "The FCC will remain vigilant while the negotiations continue."
Earlier, the Wheeler had summoned an "emergency meeting" of the FCC's Media Bureau to discuss the blackout. In reporting on the resolution of the blackout, a number of major outlets emphasized the FCC's role in carving a deal. Notable was this Washington Post headline: "How the government helped end Dish, Sinclair TV blackouts."
Media analysts generally saw the blackout as a transparent power play by Sinclair, which -- like a number of broadcasters -- is facing the prospect of having the FCC significantly change rules that work in their favor during broadcast retransmission negotiations. Wheeler has discussed, for example, ending exclusivity rules that restrict pay-TV operators from pulling in signals from distant affiliates when a local station blacks out a network.
"That may be the reason why Sinclair is driving such a hard bargain with Dish right now -- they see a limited future and want to cash in now," Alan Wolk, analyst for The Diffusion Group, told FierceCable earlier this week.
Given this backdrop, is it a good idea for Sinclair to issue statements that essentially kick sand in the faces of Wheeler and the FCC? FierceCable posed this question to Barry Faber, executive VP and general counsel for the station group. Faber has not yet responded.
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