WUPW-TV, the local Fox affiliate, returned to the Buckeye CableSystem lineup Sunday afternoon after being unavailable on the cable network since Dec. 12 because of a cost dispute.
“The parties have reached an agreement that provides for the return of WUPW to the Buckeye system,” Brad Mefferd, Buckeye president and general manager, said in a statement issued about 1:30 p.m. Terms of the settlement were not released.
The channel came back just hours before the kickoff of the NFC championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons.
Mr. Mefferd said the football games carried on WUPW seemed to be what viewers missed most in the weeks that Buckeye did not carry it.
But he said the resolution to the dispute over demands for a higher charge for Buckeye to carry WUPW were not particularly related to Sunday’s game or upcoming games.
The agreement ends Buckeye’s longest suspension in broadcast that Mr. Mefferd said he could recall. He has been with Buckeye since 1990. But he said it was not necessarily the longest negotiation during that time.
The settlement is “not short-term,” Mr. Mefferd said, declining to answer further questions about it.
“All I can say is we reached a settlement. I can’t speak to the agreement,” he said.
Based on a demand from the parent companies of WUPW-TV, Channel 36, and WTOL-TV, Channel 11, Buckeye CableSystem had stopped broadcasting WUPW at 5 p.m. Dec. 12.
The demand stemmed from an ongoing legal dispute among American Spirit Media, owner of WUPW, Raycom Media, owner of WTOL, and Buckeye. American Spirit Media and Raycom wanted to charge Buckeye more to rebroadcast WUPW, a Fox station, because it shares facilities, staff, and news broadcasts with WTOL, a CBS affiliate.
Buckeye executives had said the company should not pay an increased rate for WUPW, which is at or near the bottom of area ratings during most of the station’s daytime and prime-time programming periods.
Asked whether the 5½-week absence of WUPW from Buckeye’s lineup is likely to mean a further decline in its ongoing local viewership, Mr. Mefferd said, “I can’t comment on that. You’d have to ask WUPW.”
WUPW General Manager Dava Brothers declined to say anything beyond, “The parties have reached an agreement that provides for the return of WUPW to the Buckeye system.”
While WUPW was off Buckeye, the cable system offered what Mr. Mefferd called family-friendly replacement programming, such as Hallmark movies. He declined to talk about the viewership or expense of those programs.
Buckeye received some complaints, but not many, while it was not carrying WUPW, Mr. Mefferd said.
“Football games seemed to be the biggest thing,” he said.
In an effort to compensate viewers, Buckeye gave away $10 food vouchers on several dates this winter at several area Buffalo Wild Wings and Fricker’s sports bars, where patrons could watch games that could not be seen on the cable system. Mr. Mefferd said he did not have a tally Sunday of how many vouchers were cashed.
Buckeye also provided some antennas for customers, Mr. Mefferd said.
“Of course we’re disappointed our customers had to experience this. But now it’s resolved,” he said.
Buckeye CableSystem is owned by Block Communications Inc., parent company of The Blade.