Iowans will get to watch the Orange Bowl at home after all.
Sinclair Broadcasting Group and Mediacom Communications Corp. agreed to an eight-day extension of a negotiating deadline, meaning Sinclair won't black out its channels on Mediacom.
More important to Hawkeye football fans, the Orange Bowl game against Georgia Tech won't be blacked out Jan. 5. Other high-profile contests, such as the BCS national championship game Jan. 7, were also in danger of not being broadcast to Mediacom subscribers before the extension.
"We recognize that several of the impacted markets have college teams that will be playing in the BCS Bowl games," Sinclair spokesman Barry Faber said in a release. "We thought it was important to ensure that our viewers had the opportunity to see those games without inconvenience."
Sinclair is seeking higher rates from Mediacom to carry its stations.
The deadline was extended from midnight Thursday to midnight Jan. 8. During the extension, Mediacom will pay Sinclair a higher rate than it was paying during the contract that expires Thursday.
About 700,000 Mediacom subscribers in 11 states were at risk of losing Sinclair programming, including 400,000 in Iowa. Sinclair stations also serve Mediacom customers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Despite the extension, feelings haven't warmed between the two sides. Faber said Mediacom hasn't been dealing fairly with Sinclair.
"It has been unfortunate that Mediacom has refused to pay fair compensation for our programming, which is much less than what they pay cable channels with far less viewers," Faber said in the release.
Tom Larsen, Mediacom's vice president of legal and public affairs, responded that the comparison between broadcast and cable was not applicable because of the difference in dollars generated by cable stations.
"That's a classic Sinclair/Barry Faber comment," Larsen said. "The reality is, it's apples and oranges if you're comparing broadcast networks to cable channels."
This is the second time the two companies have been locked in a standoff. The current contract was worked out after Sinclair stations were pulled from Mediacom for about five weeks in early 2007. A new agreement was reached two days before the Super Bowl.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski commended the companies for reaching an agreement.
"This extension ... will avert the frustration that Mediacom customers would have experienced if Sinclair stations had ceased to be available over Mediacom systems," Genachowski said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
He said he hopes the companies use the extension time to settle their differences.
Traditionally the networks paid affiliates to broadcast their shows, though those fees have shrunken to almost nothing as local stations have seen their audience numbers fall.
Because of a fractured audience and dwindling dollars from advertising, broadcasters nationwide have accelerated their push for new revenue to pay for programming. Speculation is growing that major networks might even stop offering free broadcast signals in the next few years and instead would operate as cable channels — a move that could spell the end of free TV.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate commerce subcommittee on communication, technology and the Internet, wrote a letter to the CEOs of Mediacom and Sinclair on Wednesday, asking them to at least agree to an extension.
"There is no good reason for terminating carriage other than to hold consumers hostage in the negotiation process," Kerry wrote.
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