First consent for retrans

Cosmos Broadcasting has confirmed the first “pure” retransmission consent deal, in which a cable company will pay cash to carry a local TV station.

Cosmos is a Greenville, S.C.-based firm that owns seven network affiliates in midsize markets in the South and Midwest. Cosmos prez Jim Keelor said the deal involves a single TV station and a single cable operator, but that a confidentiality clause in the agreement prevents him from disclosing the identity of either.

Keelor said the deal “is for three years and the compensation payments escalate in each of the three years.” Under terms of the retransmission consent clause included in the 1992 Cable Act, cable operators must absorb retrans costs in the first year, but they may pass those costs to consumers in the second and third years.

Keelor predicted that a number of cash retrans deals will be consummated in coming weeks, but that the identities of the parties will likely remain under wraps. He said confidentiality “is the key to getting (cash deals) done” because of the “tremendous pressure” he claimed is being applied to all cable operators by the largest multisystem operators.

Representatives of the largest MSOs — including Tele-Communications Inc., Time Warner and Continental Cablevision — repeatedly have said they will not pay cash to carry TV station signals they now receive for free. That hard-line stance has led some industry insiders to suggest that a giant game of chicken is being played out before Oct. 6, when cablers may begin dropping stations demanding cash.

Keelor said he senses more of a willingness by medium-size and smaller MSOs to consider retrans payments. Local cable operators “better understand the emotional connection between the local TV station and the community,” he said. Keelor said that’s not the case with large MSOs, which he characterized as “absentee landlords.”

Cosmos owns five NBC affils: in Louisville, Ky.; Evansville, Ind.; Lake Charles, La.; Columbia, S.C.; and Montgomery, Ala. The company also owns a CBS affil in Toledo, Ohio, and an ABC affil in Jonesboro, Ark.

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