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Cable dispute causes ruffled feathers

Cable dispute causes ruffled feathers

KOMU could disappear from area televisions in dispute with Mediacom

December 31st, 2010 in News

Mediacom and KOMU-TV8 are working on last-minute negotiations today to prevent the Columbia-based NBC affiliate from being dropped from Mediacom's channel lineup.

The current retransmission consent agreement ends at midnight tonight, which is when the signals for both KOMU and its affiliate, the CW network, could go black.

But, barring an agreement, Mediacom hopes for an extension that would give both parties more time to negotiate so that customers wouldn't see an interruption in service, said Phyllis Peters, Mediacom's communications director for the region. Matt Garrett, director of audience development for KOMU, said they're focused on a three-year agreement, and that an extension had not been discussed as of Thursday evening.

As the local NBC affiliate, KOMU has exclusive rights to locally broadcast its content, which includes "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "Oprah," and its local and national news broadcasts. NFL fans would be dealt one of the first blows from a blackout. The St. Louis Rams are scheduled to play the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC West title at 7:20 p.m. Sunday on KOMU.

Negotiations that began in July, meanwhile, continue, while both sides continue to make their cases to the public.

"The failure of New York-based Mediacom to recognize the fair value that KOMU and CW bring to their cable system and subscribers has put thousands of local Mediacom subscribers at risk of losing cable access to these local stations," KOMU wrote in a news release posted on its website Thursday evening.

Peters said KOMU has asked for "significantly more" than previously and than other area broadcast stations. "A lot of money has been put on the table, and it appears to be not enough or insufficient to meet the bar KOMU has set," Peters said.

KOMU said it's asking for less than 2 cents per day per Mediacom customer.

"The bottom line is that we're just seeking a fair agreement like we have with any other cable or satellite provider in the area," Garrett said.

Peters said if Mediacom passed along a 2-cent-per-day charge to its customers, that alone would account for about $45 of their monthly bills. That doesn't include anything else Mediacom does to provide the service, she said.

In the current agreement, Mediacom has compensated KOMU for allowing the signal to be broadcast on its channel lineup. But that compensation has been in the form of things such as advertising money and fiber optic cable upgrades, not cash. In the new agreement, KOMU is seeking direct payment.

One published report said Mediacom serves about 30,000 households in Jefferson City and Columbia. Peters declined to specify the number, but said it was larger than that estimate.

KOMU points out that there are other options for getting its programming, including with an antenna or through other providers such as DirectTV, Dish Network or CenturyLink. Mediacom says switching providers isn't a good solution, because all providers go through contract negotiations that could result in blackouts.

KOMU is the only university-owned commercial television station in the United States with a newsroom that doubles as a working lab for students. Its revenues are generated by advertising and retransmission revenues, not through university or state funding.