On eve of Games, GCI, KTUU ink contract through 2017


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Kikkan Randall of Anchorage catches her breath after her women’s quarterfinal heat in the cross-country sprint at the 2014 Winter Olympics on Feb. 11 in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Randall did not advance to the semifinals, but television viewers in rural Alaska were able to watch her perform after GCI and NBC affiliate KTUU resolved differences that had removed the signal from more than a dozen communities.

Photo/Matthias Schrader/AP

GCI television customers throughout Alaska are able to watch the winter Olympics — and Alaska-based news — after a months-long dispute between the cable company and an Anchorage broadcaster was resolved.

Broadcaster KTUU and GCI announced Feb. 6 that the two companies had reached an agreement on the contract under which GCI carries KTUU’s signal in rural Alaska.

That comes after several months of on and off negotiations, including almost three months during which rural Alaska viewers in more than a dozen communities, were not able to see KTUU news programs or syndicated NBC content.

GCI stopped carrying KTUU programming in rural Alaska in November, and in Southeast Alaska in December, as negotiations on multiple contracts between the two companies stalled.

The new contracts will run through September 2017, according to GCI spokesman David Morris.

In a statement, KTUU President and General Manager Andy MacLeod said getting to the new contracts required both sides to give in somewhat.

“GCI and KTUU-TV worked to find middle ground on the contract language and the market-based agreement provides a level playing field for both companies to grow into the future,” MacLeod said.

Morris confirmed that both companies had moved toward the middle since discussion stalled last year, but could not provide specific details of the contracts.

KTUU Marketing Director Brad Hillwig said last December that the companies agreed in principle on economic terms for the agreement. The details stymied the process, however — specifically, what would happen if KTUU acquired another station.

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

Hillwig wrote in a December 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 had in place.

“At this time, I’m not aware of any plans to acquire an additional station or enter into any joint ventures,” Hillwig 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.”

That issue, and other components of the contracts, has been resolved, although the two companies are not saying how.

The new contracts, however, sufficiently protect GCI’s interests, Morris said.

Morris said the timing of when the two companies put together contracts was not related to the international event.

“We were pursuing any number of avenues, but the Olympics didn’t have anything to do with it,” Morris said.

KTUU has said it is glad its Olympics coverage would reach a wider audience.

“We are glad rural Alaskans will see the Olympics on KTUU-TV and that they and Southeast residents will be able to follow Channel 2’s in-depth coverage of the Alaska athletes competing in Sochi,” MacLeod said.

Viewers were not entirely cutoff from winter Olympics coverage, however, Morris said.

Rural Alaska GCI customers had access to online streaming of the games, he said. NBC offered the online stream to anyone who subscribed to a paid TV service, and the online site had more events than the televised broadcasts, Morris said, and at more convenient times.

GCI subsidiary Denali Media acquired two Southeast Alaska stations last year, and was unable to reach an agreement with KTUU about rebroadcasting KTUU news. Those stations, however, were also NBC affiliates, so the network programming was not dropped and Olympics coverage remained.

However, KTUU has reporters in Sochi, Russia, for the winter games, and is the only Alaska-based television station with staff there. That coverage is only available now that KTUU is being carried by GCI again.

Alaska sent several athletes to the competition this year, and other Alaska media outlets are also covering them.

Morris said he thought both entities would make an effort to avoid getting customers stuck in the middle during the next set of negotiations. All parties involved were frustrated that customers wound up in the middle, he said.

In addition to the two recently purchased Southeast Alaska stations, GCI recently became a news producer, as well, by purchasing an Anchorage television station KTVA, and has announced plans for additional acquisitions in Southeast.

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

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