Bright House Networks customers got a welcome New Year's present Monday, as the company announced a last-minute deal with Media General to keep the Virginia-based media chain's TV stations on its system, including Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA-Ch. 8.
But the deal, reportedly reached an hour before the midnight deadline on New Year's Eve, follows the pattern of several recent conflicts between cable and satellite companies and broadcasters. (considering that Bright House has more than a million households in its system in the Tampa Bay area, NBC's affiliate disappearing from the system would have hurt everyone from NBC Universal to viewers without access to other systems or a broadcast antenna.)
And the public battle over such retransmission agreements -- which in this case included constant messages by text crawl, online, in TV commercials and news stories on WFLA about its possible disappearance from Bright House's system -- could leave consumers cynical and annoyed over alarms raised which never come to fruition.
The fight to grab fees from cable and satellite companies for the right to retransmit broadcast stations on their systems began with big station groups owners such as CBS, Fox and NBC, and has now migrated to other owners of station clusters, including Media General, Sinclair Broadcasting and Gannett.
The cycle is mostly the same. If disagreements persist up to the contract renewal date, each side establishes a website, collection of commercials and sometimes even stories within newscasts to "warn" consumers they may soon lose access to channels they enjoy.
The true goal, of course, is to mobilize public opinion against the other side in the negotiation and avoid blame if the disagreement does result in a programming outage.
But the public has become increasingly cynical about such tactics, with good reason.
So the question remains: If such media blitzes feel more and more like negotiating tactics than real concerns, what are media outlets -- especially those with news departments trumpeting the alarm -- doing to their credibility by passing such messages along?