WNWO hosts town hall meeting to address Buckeye negotiationsWritten by Bailey G. Dick | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The parent company of a local broadcast station held a town hall-style meeting Feb. 3 in hopes of explaining its side of a weeks-long debate with an area cable company.
Representatives from Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns local NBC affiliate WNWO, were present at the event held the day before a Feb. 4 meeting to negotiate with local cable provider Buckeye CableSystem. In December, a contract between WNWO and Buckeye expired after the two companies failed to come to an agreement on a fair price for programming.
WNWO and Sinclair hosted the informational session at the Park Inn in Downtown Toledo to offer answers for the approximately 50 Buckeye Cable customers in attendance.
Barry Faber, executive vice president of Sinclair Broadcast Group, led the majority of the meeting, telling attendees, “I’m sorry I have to be here.”
“I’m sorry I’m here, and I’m sorry you’re here,” Faber said. “I know this is annoying for people. It’s inconvenient and we are taking this very seriously.”
Faber said that Sinclair, which owns more than 100 stations across the country, purchased WNWO in November 2013, and noted that the previous owner of the station couldn’t reach a deal with Buckeye when its contract came up in August 2013.
“This was just bad timing,” Faber said. “The previous owner just couldn’t get a deal done.”
The deal in question refers to an agreement between broadcast stations and cable providers. Providers, like Buckeye, purchase programming from stations. In the dispute between Sinclair and Buckeye Cable, the cable provider deemed the price asked by Sinclair for WNWO was too high, resulting in a loss of programming.
During the Feb. 3 meeting, Faber said he is confident his company’s asking price is fair.
“We provide service to over 150 stations. We do negotiations like this all over the country. Except for one negotiation years ago, we’ve never had this problem. It just doesn’t happen,” Faber said. “We understand our market, and our prices aren’t too high.”
Faber said he wanted to have a chance to respond to ads run by Buckeye in The Blade that asked questions of Sinclair Broadcasting. Faber said attempts to purchase advertising space in the paper were declined. Buckeye CableSystem and The Blade are both owned by Block Communications Inc.
Despite the very public dispute between Sinclair and Buckeye, Faber declined to discuss specifics of the negotiations, including what he felt was a fair price.
According to statistics provided by the company at the meeting, the estimated fees per subscriber per month on Buckeye Cable are $0.24 for WNWO, compared to $5.33 for ESPN, $1.10 for Nickelodeon and $3.45 for Fox Sports Detroit.
Faber explained that cable channels have higher fees due to the exclusivity of their content compared with local broadcast channels. Broadcast channels also have higher viewership rates compared with cable.
While WNWO is not the top local broadcast station in the Toledo market, Faber said Sinclair still wants a higher price than what Buckeye is willing to pay.
“We acknowledge it’s not the No. 1 or No. 2 station in the market. But we’re in this for the long haul. We believe very strongly in local news,” Faber said.
Only a handful of attendees asked questions during the meeting, concerned mostly about specifics of the negotiations between the companies. Faber declined to discuss most specifics, but emphasized that no WNWO employees would lose jobs if an agreement isn’t reached.
Faber noted that 30 percent of cable consumers in the Toledo market are Buckeye customers.
“This is a very unusual situation,” said Toledoan Julia Torres Barden, a former spokesperson for cable provider Comcast and occasional Toledo Free Press contributor, who was in attendance for the meeting.
“If their satisfaction and penetration into the market is only 30 percent, that indicates a problem,” Torres Barden said.
Other customers who spoke at the meeting asked Faber how they could impact the negotiations, and wondered if contacting their local congressperson would have an impact. Some were frustrated at Faber’s lack of confidence in negotiations.
“It’s very possible that this station isn’t coming back on,” Faber said. “I would not be surprised if this lasted a long time. We’re not going to change our prices for one market. We do hundreds of these deals, and this never happens.”
“We’re prepared to listen and negotiate with them, and hear why they don’t think this NBC station is valuable,” Faber said.
Faber suggested that Buckeye customers who aren’t satisfied with the loss of programming switch to another provider.
“If your grocery store stopped selling the products you use, you’d go shop elsewhere,” he said.
Negotiations between Sinclair and Buckeye Cable are set to resume Feb. 4.