KOMU-Mediacom battle to the wire over contract negotiations

Thursday, December 30, 2010 | 5:19 p.m. CST; updated 10:57 a.m. CST, Friday, January 7, 2011

COLUMBIA — Mediacom and KOMU-TV are now airing their contract negotiations in public.

In dueling messages, Mediacom subscribers are getting a slice of the debate over compensation for KOMU programming that has been going on since July.

If a contract is not reached by Friday, KOMU will not be in the Mediacom lineup. Thus, customers would not get Channel 8 news, "Saturday Night Live," "30 Rock" or any other NBC programming.

Negotiations began six months ago to renew a retransmission consent agreement between KOMU and Mediacom. That agreement allows KOMU programming to be broadcast to Mediacom subscribers.

As of Thursday morning, the two companies had not reached an agreement.

Instead of financial compensation, KOMU has been receiving services from Mediacom for the past two years. Those services include promotional spots on some Mediacom channels and a fiber optic line from the KOMU station to the Mediacom office in Columbia and MU.

KOMU now wants payment for its programming, arguing that Mediacom charges subscribers for the station's offerings. 

"We are confident that we will work something out, but we would like to be fairly compensated for our service," said Matt Garrett, the director of audience development at KOMU.

Garrett said KOMU is seeking less than 2 cents a day per subscriber based on an equation that also involves a time frame and other factors. Mediacom would not confirm its number of subscribers, but it has been reported that it has 30,000 customers.

KOMU's affiliation with MU is part of the dispute.

"KOMU is self-sufficient and self-funded," Garrett said. "We operate like any other broadcaster." 

Mediacom asserts that the station is a tax-supported, nonprofit organization. According to KOMU, the station is not supported by tax dollars.

"The university doesn't transfer any operating funds to KOMU,"  said MU spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken. "KOMU is a self-supporting auxiliary enterprise of MU."

According to Mediacom, KOMU wants to be the highest paid affiliate in the Columbia/Jefferson City market.

"It's a university-run network, but they are behaving like a for-profit broadcaster,” said Tom Larsen, group vice president of legal and public affairs for Mediacom.

KOMU is not asking for special treatment, Garrett said. 

"We provide 24 hours a day, seven days a week of programming," he said. "No other industry is asked to give their valuable product for free, to the competitor, so that the competitor can resell it. That's why we are asking for fair market compensation."

Mediacom customers will experience a change regardless of the outcome. If the negotiations favor KOMU, customer bills will increase, Larsen said. If an agreement can't be reached, subscribers will lose the programming. On Mediacom's website, however, it says that some NBC programming will be available through its on-demand program.

"Rates go up every year for different programmers," said Larsen. "Bills will ultimately go up for customers if KOMU gets their way in negotiations."

Mediacom's position is presented on its website.

"We want to keep our customers, and we don't want to lose programming," Larsen said. "But we don't want to have bad deals, it's a balance."

Likewise, KOMU's position is outlined on its website, where it encourages viewers to express their opinions.

Urging consumers to express their concerns is a popular method with networks, Larson said. 

"This is a more common tactic of broadcast stations, informing consumers and pressuring them into contacting their cable providers," Larsen said.

The site also directs viewers to other providers — DirecTV, CenturyLink and Dish Network — that carry KOMU programming.

"Quite frankly, what’s good enough for the providers we have reached agreements with isn't good enough for Mediacom," Garrett said. 

While it isn't uncommon for contracts like this to go down to the wire, the fact that negotiations have been under way since July is unusual, he said.

 "We still have a lot of ground to cover," said Garrett of the deal last week. "We still want to continue dialogue, but we want a fair market value for the service we provide."

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Ricky Gurley December 30, 2010 | 9:22 p.m.

I can't figure out who the "bad guy" is here...

They both make pretty compelling cases...

Ricky Gurley.

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