GCI-KTUU dispute continues with Juneau, Sitka latest drops


Juneau and Sitka were added to the list of Alaska communities no longer receiving KTUU’s signal Dec. 7.

Alaska cable company General Communications Inc., which also launched its own news show Dec. 1 on KTVA, lost its right to transmit Anchorage-based broadcaster KTUU’s signal in the two Southeast Alaska communities after the two companies failed to come to a comprehensive agreement on the terms by which GCI would transmit KTUU programming in Juneau, Sitka, Anchorage and other rural Alaska communities through 2017 by a Dec. 6 deadline.

By Dec. 9, negotiations had not restarted, said GCI spokesperson David Morris.

“Will the discussion come back up, yes,” Morris said on Dec. 9. “There’s not an active negotiation going today, but that doesn’t keep the parties from coming back together.”

The agreement had three parts: a deal for the Juneau and Sitka transmission, a deal for Anchorage and a deal for much of rural Alaska.

Anchorage transmission will continue through 2014. But when the two companies did not come to an agreement Dec. 6, transmission in Juneau and Sitka stopped.

On Nov. 8, GCI stopped transmitting KTUU to rural Alaska communities including Barrow, Bethel, Kodiak, Kotzebue, Nome and Valdez.

The deal in the works could have restored transmission there, and continued it in Southeast Alaska.

The Southeast Alaska agreement was needed because GCI recently purchased the two stations, both NBC affiliates, as well as KTVA in Anchorage, a CBS affiliate. The previous owner retransmitted KTUU’s signal including news and syndicated programming from NBC on the Southeast Alaska stations.

In order to continue airing KTUU news, GCI needed a contract with the broadcaster to do so, said Morris. GCI brought that up eight months ago, but hadn’t come to an agreement by the November deadline, so it was postponed to Dec. 6.

That didn’t happen, so GCI is no longer able to air the newscasts, Morris said.

Both companies have agreed that the failure to reach an agreement came at the end of the negotiations.

After much discussion, the two signed an agreement on comprehensive carriage terms Nov. 22, and were waiting for lawyers to work out the specifics in legal language, Morris said.

The exact details of the agreement have not been released.

But KTUU Marketing Director Brad Hilwig said the companies agreed in principle on economic terms for the agreement. Morris noted that many of the past issues had been resolved, including subscriber rates and HD transmission.

The details stymied the process, however — specifically, what would happen if KTUU acquired another station.

According to Morris, KTUU inserted a provision that the same negotiation would occur if KTUU acquired another broadcaster. Morris said that effectively doubled KTUU’s ask.

Hilwig wrote in an email that he wasn’t involved in the negotiations, and didn’t know who brought up the discussion of the provision, but that GCI wanted language that would dictate the terms of future KTUU joint ventures or acquisitions by mandating acceptance of the existing retransmission agreements GCI has in place.

“Our position was very reasonable, in that we sought to negotiate retransmission terms of the acquired station based on fair market terms at the time of purchase or joint venture,” Hilwig wrote Dec. 9.

KTUU has no immediate plans for expansion, but wants to keep its options open, according to Hilwig.

“At this time, I’m not aware of any plans to acquire an additional station or enter into any joint ventures,” Hilwig wrote Dec. 10. “However, changes in the media industry happen often and it is important that we remain flexible enough to consider growth opportunities if and when they arise.”

Morris said that it is too early to say what the affects of the Southeast change will be, but the station hasn’t seen a significant drop in rural subscribers since those communities lost the programming, as far as GCI can tell.

Despite that, Morris said it’s an inconvenience, and GCI is trying to get permission to carry NBC syndicated programming such as The Voice and Sunday Night Football.

KTUU goes dark

KTUU also went offair briefly in Anchorage on Dec. 2 – the same day GCI launched its new newscast on KTVA, the station it purchased earlier in the fall.

Morris said the piece of equipment that converts KTUU’s signal from HD to SD failed. Shortly after the broadcaster called, GCI got it fixed and the station went back on air, he said.

According to GCI, it was purely bad timing that the signal went off air the first night of GCI’s own news show. Any correlation, Morris said, was getting into the “conspiracy weeds.”

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

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