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Published: Monday, 12/16/2013 - Updated: 7 months ago

Buckeye forced to drop WNWO, Ch. 24

Consent contract expires; negotiations ongoing with station’s new owner

BLADE STAFF

WNWO, Channel 24, the NBC affiliate in the Toledo area, on Sunday ordered Buckeye CableSystem to remove its signal from Buckeye’s carriage at midnight after the existing retransmission consent contract between the two expired.

Under federal law, Buckeye cannot transmit a broadcast signal without WNWO’s permission.

“We regret that WNWO took this action,” said Jeff Abbas, Buckeye president and general manager.

“Fortunately for our customers, WNWO’s signal is available off-air for free, and Buckeye will provide our customers with a free digital antenna if they’d like one,” Mr. Abbas said. “Also, the majority of NBC network programming is available online for free, including Sunday Night Football, and Buckeye has a link on its Web site, www.buckeyecablesystem.com, pointing viewers to that programming,” he added.

On Nov. 25, Barrington Broadcasting Group LLC sold WNWO and 17 other stations to Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. Sinclair owns, operates, programs, or provides sales services to 164 TV stations in 77 markets.

Mr. Abbas said that while Buckeye continues to negotiate with Sinclair for the rights to retransmit Channel 24’s signal, terms have not been agreed upon.

“Buckeye simply cannot agree to pay Sinclair 10 times more for WNWO than what previous owners required. That is unfair to our customers who are being burdened by ever-increasing programming costs, and it is also unfair to the other stations in Toledo who have much higher viewership than WNWO,” Mr. Abbas said.

Sinclair, based in Baltimore, has been acquiring TV stations rapidly, and its stations reach about 38.7 percent of U.S. TV households.

Matt Polka, American Cable Association chief, in a September petition to the Federal Communications Commission, said, “Sinclair’s intent is as clear as it is anti-competitive — to gain insurmountable bargaining leverage over ACA members and stage, when needed, massive and strategically timed blackouts to enhance the receipt of windfall profits.”

In its petition, the ACA asked the FCC to block or attach conditions to Sinclair’s acquisition of TV stations in Harrisburg, Pa., and Charleston, S.C., a move that the cable association said would have given Sinclair dual monopolies by owning the ABC and CBS stations in Harrisburg and the ABC and Fox stations in Charleston.

The FCC has not approved the sale, saying it violates FCC ownership rules as currently structured.

Earlier this year, Buckeye was involved in a retransmission dispute with the local Fox affiliate, WUPW, Channel 36, when the station’s owners, American Spirit Media, and Raycom Media, owner of WTOL, Channel 11, sought to increase WUPW’s retransmission rates.

American Spirit Media and Raycom wanted to charge Buckeye more to rebroadcast WUPW, a Fox station, after it started sharing facilities, staff, and news broadcasts with WTOL, a CBS affiliate.

The dispute started Dec. 12, 2012, when Buckeye dropped Channel 36 and was not resolved until Jan. 20 when a deal was reached and the station returned to the cable lineup.

Buckeye CableSystem and The Blade are both owned by Block Communications Inc.



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