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Published: Tuesday, 7/15/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

Buckeye, WNWO reach deal

2-year pact for Channel 24 ends months-long battle over rates

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Buckeye CableSystem subscribers in Ohio are again able to view Toledo’s local NBC affiliate.

After a months-long battle over retransmission rates, Buckeye and the owners of Toledo’s WNWO, Channel 24, reached a new, two-year agreement on Monday. Service was restored Monday afternoon. Buckeye said there is no plan to increase subscriber rates at this time.

“We’re pleased to have them back,” said Keith Wilkowski, vice president of business and legal affairs for Buckeye CableSystem. “It was a long and difficult fight. We want to thank our customers for their patience and their loyalty.”

Channel 24 had been unavailable through Buckeye for nearly seven months. Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., which purchased WNWO as part of a multistation deal in November, ordered Buckeye to stop retransmitting its signal in mid-December when an existing contract expired and the two sides were unable to agree on a new contract.

At the time, officials with Buckeye said Sinclair wanted to raise their fee for the right to transmit WNWO’s signal from 24 cents per customer per month to $2 per customer per month. Sinclair management called that claim untrue.

Financial terms of Monday’s agreement weren’t made public.

“I’m not able to speak to the rate that was agreed to,” Mr. Wilkowski said. “I can say Buckeye felt very strongly it needed to stand up for its customers and keep rates under control. We think we did some good under this dispute. We’re really pleased to have WNWO back with us, but there was some good gain with the stance we took.”

Barry Faber, vice president and general counsel at Sinclair, said the issue had never been one of not wanting to be carried by Buckeye, but a disagreement in value. He said he was glad the companies had finally reached an agreement that worked for both sides.

“We’re happy to be back on,” he said. “We view Buckeye as a partner of ours, as we do all cable companies, and we hope we don’t get in this situation again.”

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

The agreement reached Monday only applies to Buckeye customers in Ohio. Mr. Wilkowski said subscribers in Michigan will continue receiving an NBC affiliate station out of Detroit. He declined to elaborate on why Michigan was excluded from the deal.

“I’m not at liberty to speak to that, but I can only say there is an NBC affiliate that is operating there and it is possible in the future [WNWO] would be back,” he said.

During the time that WNWO was not available through Buckeye CableSystem, the company distributed more than 17,000 digital antennas so subscribers could view NBC programming over the air. The company also gave customers a nominal 24 cent per month credit on their cable bills. Officials said Monday that credit will now go away.

In a written statement, Jeff Abbas, Buckeye president and general manager said Buckeye “held the line” on increasing broadcaster fees that have driven up the cost of cable television.

“Fortunately, real progress has been made with the Federal Communications Commission, which recently adopted important reforms in the area of retransmission consent negotiations that should help keep those fees in check,” Mr. Abbas said. “We look forward to additional changes in FCC rules that will help television consumers.”

In late March, the FCC adopted a new rule that prohibits top stations in the same market area but with different owners from jointly negotiating retransmission consent agreements. The FCC said the practice reduces competition between stations while at the same time giving them undue bargaining leverage.

Mr. Faber said WNWO has not historically been a top performing station, but since acquiring the station Sinclair has been working to improve it.

“Our goal is to make that a very strong television station and an improved presence in the Toledo market,” he said.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134 or on Twitter @BladeAutoWriter.



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