Mediacom-KOMU deadlock might benefit other providers

Wednesday, January 5, 2011 | 6:35 p.m. CST; updated 9:24 a.m. CST, Friday, January 7, 2011

* CenturyLink's cable television service is called CenturyLink Prism. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the service.

COLUMBIA — About 178,000 households with televisions in the Columbia and Jefferson City area receive some sort of paid television service. Of these, the two majority cable providers are Mediacom and CenturyLink. 

Since Tuesday morning, CenturyLink — formerly known as CenturyTel — has been the only local cable operator sending programming from KOMU, the local NBC affiliate, to its customers.

On Twitter feeds and in comment fields, some Mediacom customers have threatened to switch.

"We have a good relationship with other cable and satellite providers," said Matt Garrett, the director of audience development at KOMU.

Garrett said all of KOMU's other provider contracts, both cable and satellite, award financial compensation for the network affiliate's programming.

"We have agreements with local channels that we believe is fair to both parties and allows us to provide all the local content to our customers," said Ken McMahon, CenturyLink general manager of the northern Missouri market. 

CenturyLink's cable product, *CenturyLink Prism, is also in other markets, including Jefferson City; Tallahassee and Fort Myers, Fla.; Las Vegas; and La Crosse, Wis. In addition to its cable services, CenturyLink, which is headquartered in Monroe, La., also sells Internet and telephone services in 33 states.

A major difference in the negotiation process between KOMU and cable providers Mediacom and CenturyLink is the issue of MU affiliation. Mediacom hasn't changed its stance that KOMU is a taxpayer-funded enterprise of MU, a public institution, and thus should be treated differently than for-profit stations. The affiliation was a nonissue for CenturyLink in contract negotiations.

"KOMU's affiliation with MU didn't come up at all,"  McMahon said. "We treated it like any other network we work with."

McMahon said that when approaching the local network market, the strategic decision of having all local channels was extremely important. CenturyLink began selling its cable service, Interlink Prism, in late 2007, and it has never experienced a blackout of programming over contract disputes.

Garrett said that, to his knowledge, this is the first time in KOMU's history that a cable blackout has gone into effect. It is difficult to guess a specific timeline on negotiations without a precedent specific to KOMU.

While neither KOMU nor CenturyLink would say when their current contract expires, Garrett said he isn't concerned about future negotiations with other cable providers.

"We don't anticipate any issues in the future in retransmission negotiations with other providers," Garrett said.

Since the old KOMU programming channels on Mediacom are still newly empty, it is difficult to get an accurate figure of the number of customers switching to other providers such as CenturyLink. 

"If the programming drop continues with KOMU and Mediacom, people will look to an alternative," McMahon said.

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