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Cable systems to keep Chs. 29, 49 for now Talks to continue on demand for fees

Time Warner Cable and Sinclair Broadcasting Group have agreed to continue negotiations through next Friday.

The cable company made the announcement late Friday, dodging the midnight deadline for retaining Fox network's WUTV (Channel 29) and MyNet-workTV's WNYO (Channel 49).

Had the deadline not been extended, Time Warner's customers might have had to resort to old-fashioned rabbit ears to watch two of the four National Football League playoff games this weekend -- not to mention Sunday's season premiere of "24."

A local Time Warner executive predicted earlier Friday that football fans among its 330,000 local subscribers would not be forced to take desperate measures.

"We do not expect Sinclair to force us to stop retransmitting their signal at midnight," said Steve Jaworowski, vice president of marketing communications.

The issue involves whether Sinclair, which owns television stations in 34 markets -- including a dozen or so served by Time Warner -- should be compensated for the Fox and MyNetworkTV programming it provides to the cable giant.

Sinclair argues it should be paid just like lesser-watched cable networks, such as the Animal Planet and Oxygen. Time Warner counters that it shouldn't have to pay for channels its subscribers could receive free with an antenna.

Time Warner is feuding with other station ownership groups over the same question.

The rush to buy rabbit ears and dishes is already on in 13 states where Sinclair pulled 22 stations off Mediacom Cable Systems a week ago in a similar dispute over transmission fees.

Baltimore-based Sinclair rejected a plea Thursday fromIowa's congressional delegation that its dispute with Mediacom be submitted to binding arbitration, the Des Moines Register reported.

The scramble for free antennas that Mediacom offered customers caused a traffic jam earlier this week as hundreds of cars pulled up to its office about a mile from downtown Des Moines. The cable company order the set-top antennas after distributing more than 4,000 housetop antennas last week.

"This is not a Buffalo-only decision. Whatever decision is made . . . will affect all the Time Warner/Sinclair markets," Nick Magnini, general manager at WUTV and WNYO, said Thursday.


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