If the Time Warner Cable blackout is hurting CBS, there is at least one figure offering striking evidence to the contrary. By one measure, household primetime ratings on Tuesday were down a mere 2% in the New York market. After that, though, things aren’t as rosy.
Regulators in Washington probably won’t heed Time Warner Cable’s call for help in a dispute that has blocked CBS shows from more than 3 million subscribers in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. TWC, in a letter to the FCC released Aug. 5, asked the agency for “prompt action” to alter the rules to address “coercive” tactics by CBS. But FCC Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn has said the agency lacks the authority to intervene, and rewriting rules for settling such disputes would take too long to end the current disruption, according to Paul Gallant, Washington-based managing director at Guggenheim Securities.
The board of directors of the CBS Television Network Affiliates Association today came out in support of CBS Corp. in its retransmission consent dispute with Time Warner Cable.
Was Time Warner Cable being hypocritical this week when it proposed to carry CBS-owned stations on an a la carte basis — which CEO Les Moonves rejected as PR “grandstanding”? The broadcaster distributed evidence today to support that view, including a class action suit filed in June that accused Time Warner Cable of abusing its distribution clout in Southern California by failing to give subscribers a choice to pay for TWC channels that offer Los Angeles Lakers and Dodgers games.
Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who recently won John F. Kerry’s Senate seat, on Tuesday asked the FCC to step in and restart retrans negotiations between the broadcast network and the cable MSO. “I believe the public interest would be best served if carriage is restored by the parties at the earliest possible time so that consumers are not long caught in the middle,” he said.
In a letter released Tuesday, Moonves rebuffed Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt’s offer to allow CBS to sell its programming to consumers “a la carte” instead of bundled with other channels.
Even though the Disney CEO says he doesn’t want to weigh into the contract dispute, he left analysts with little doubt about his sympathies. Bob Iger told them in his quarterly earnings call that he feels “strongly about the need for broadcasters to be paid adequately” by pay TV providers.
It’s difficult to gauge how much the Time Warner Cable blackouts are affecting CBS-owned stations. But Sunday, three large stations experienced notable week-to-week drops in primetime. Household ratings by one metric dropped 27% in the New York market and 14% in Los Angeles, while falling 12% in Dallas.
Television is a public good. We forget that sometimes, but it’s true. But you wouldn’t know it based on the spectacle created by CBS and Time Warner Cable duking it out for billions of dollars and blacking out signals to millions of households in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and other markets across the country. But the bigger issue is the system and the antiquated laws that govern it. Congress needs to reform the rules of the game so that consumers’ interests come first.
CBS isn’t buying Time Warner Cable’s public proposal for a compromise to get the network back on the air. “Today’s so-called proposal is a sham, a public relations vehicle designed to distract from the fact that Time Warner Cable is not negotiating in good faith,” CBS said.
The proposal, in a letter from CEO Glenn Britt to CBS chief Les Moonves, offers to resume carriage of CBS stations and channels including Showtime “with the new economics TWC reluctantly agreed to during our negotiations, while employing all the other terms and conditions of our recently expired contracts.”
The CBS affiliate in Odessa-Midland, Texas, has been taken off the air for local DirecTV customers after the satellite television provider and KOSA parent company ICA Broadcasting failed to reach an agreement, affecting about 20,000 customers.
Three million Time Warner Cable customers in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and other cities remained without access to CBS for a third day on Sunday, after the cable provider dropped the network in a spat over fees. The two sides couldn’t agree on the status of their talks either, with CBS saying on Sunday that no negotiations were taking place. A Time Warner representative maintained that, “Talks continue.”
On Friday, CBS and Time Warner Cable failed to reach a new retransmission consent agreement by their 5 p.m. deadline and the cable company has dropped the No. 1 primetime network in key markets across the country.
In the latest blowup over broadcast TV retransmission fees, Dish Network customers in 36 markets lost access to 53 television stations owned by Raycom Media after the companies failed to reach a new deal by midnight Wednesday.
CBS chief Les Moonves couldn’t resist alluding to his tense retransmission consent negotiations with Time Warner Cable — even though he didn’t want to address the matter directly in a Wednesday conference call with analysts. “We will update you when we have more news,” he said in prepared remarks, adding that CBS will remain “resolute” as it faces a Friday deadline when its stations might go dark on TWC cable systems in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.
Darkness continues for stations owned by Journal Communications on Time Warner Cable systems. Since July 25, affiliates in Milwaukee, Omaha and Green Bay have been off the air in homes served by the cable operator as a retransmission consent payment dispute ensues.
The two sides negotiated through the day Monday to avoid a programming blackout, then set a new deadline of Friday, Aug. 2, at 5 p.m. Eastern time. Late last night, Time Warner Cable briefly took down CBS stations, but quickly reinstated them at the broadcaster’s request and continued negotiations.
Time Warner Cable now says it has agreed to yet another extension with CBS “while we continue negotiations.” This moves the deadline to Friday, Aug. 2, at 5 p.m. Eastern time.
This dispute doesn’t have the titan-vs.-titan glamour of Time Warner Cable’s fight with CBS — where negotiators gave themselves until Monday to agree on retransmission consent terms. But it’s important to a little more than 500,000 Time Warner Cable customers who today find themselves without Journal Communications’ NBC programming in Milwaukee; Green Bay, Wis.; and Palm Springs, Calif.; and CBS in Omaha, Neb.
The parties again have set a new deadline to settle their retransmission consent battle: This time it’s 5 p.m. ET on Monday. The fight involves CBS-owned stations that reach some 3.5 million Time Warner Cable homes, primarily in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.
The previous deadline of Wednesday has been moved to 9 a.m. ET Thursday. CBS boss Leslie Moonves says Time Warner Cable can afford to compensate CBS fairly without passing the cost on to customers. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable says that it has offered CBS significant fees, but “their current demands don’t represent a good value for our customers.”
CBS and Time Warner Cable are waging a public war of words in a retrans dispute that threatens to knock 13 CBS-owned stations off TWC systems in eight major markets. But CBS is bolstered by another potent weapon in this fight: multiple top-tier radio stations in the three markets — New York, Los Angeles and Dallas — most affected by the contract wrangle. And those stations have added the spots on heavy rotation, judging from a quick survey of the L.A. dial on Friday morning.
As another television programming blackout looms, this time because of a high-stakes negotiation between the CBS Corporation and Time Warner Cable, there is a new wrinkle, courtesy of Aereo, the start-up that streams broadcast TV via the Internet. While Time Warner Cable does not seem ready or willing to deploy Aereo-like technology, a spokeswoman, Maureen Huff, said Sunday that it would recommend Aereo to its New York subscribers if CBS was blacked out.
CBS starts an ad blitz in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere claiming its stations are being held “hostage” as the cable provider bemoans the “unreasonable” 600% increase it claims the network’s seeking.
Although neither side is taking shots at each other publicly, there is an undercurrent of tension between Time Warner Cable and CBS Corp. as the two companies attempt to negotiate a new distribution deal. Time Warner Cable’s agreement to carry CBS-owned TV stations, the basic cable channels CBS Sports Network and Smithsonian, and the pay network Showtime expired at the end of June. Since then, there have been a couple of extensions, the latest one running to a few days before the end of the month.
Negotiations failed between Journal Broadcast Group and Time Warner Cable, which means the cable provider will no longer be allowed to carry the Palm Springs, Calif., MNT affiliate. A June 30 deadline was extended to 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. But that deadline ran out with no new deal, a Time Warner spokesman said late Wednesday.
Negotiations between CBS and Time Warner Cable to renew their four-year-old pact — covering retransmission of CBS owned-and-operated TV stations and carriage of cable nets including Showtime — are expected to take several more weeks to resolve, according to a source familiar with the talks.
Tribune Co.’s $2.7 billion deal to buy 19 Local TV LLC stations sets the stage for a major battle over the retransmission fees cable and satellite operators pay to carry stations. Tribune CEO Peter Liguori opened a new front yesterday, making it known the company will be gunning for bigger licensing fees for its growing stable of network affiliates.
Facing a June 30 deadline, Media General and Dish Network reached an agreement preventing the possible blackout of 17 stations on the satellite operator. The station group has agreed to give Dish a 90-day extension on the retransmission consent agreement scheduled to lapse over the weekend as negotiations continue.
The distribution deal between CBS and Time Warner Cable expired at midnight ET on Sunday, and reps for the two sides said negotiations covering the Eye’s O&Os and cable networks continued past the deadline. No blackouts of CBS-owned networks have been reported on Time Warner Cable systems.
WTMJ Milwaukee is among the Journal Broadcast Group stations carried on Time Warner Cable that could remove themselves from the carrier if a contract dispute over retransmission compensation is not settled. The deadline is 11:59 p.m. Sunday.
Currently, broadcasters get about $1 per month for each subscriber from the television service providers that carry their stations. Broadcasters may, however, be moving toward parity with other cable channels, which individually earn more in retransmission fees than broadcasters do but not as much as ESPN.
DirecTV could lose the right to carry Gannett’s 23 TV stations on Dec. 1 unless the two sides reach a new programming pact by then. The current retransmission consent agreement between the two companies expires at midnight on Friday. Stations affected include several in large cities including Washington, Atlanta and Denver.
The key sticking points: crafting an agreement that would address the varying needs of all affiliates, small and large, and network negotiators handling details of local retrans deals, including negotiating fees for digital subchannels that carry non-NBC programming. For all that’s going on at NAB 2012, click here.
In a message to the two cable providers’ subscribers, the Allbritton ABC affiliate in Washington says it may be necessary to pull the station if a deal can’t be reached by Jan. 1.
The latest wrinkle in the retrans war is that Time Warner Cable systems can pick up Fox primetime and sports programming if they are denied carriage of the local Fox affiliate. It would appear to undermine the retrans efforts of affiliates, but the network maintains that it really wants to help the affiliates by getting TWC to pick up a “cooling off feed” that comprises the entire affiliate signal for a year. Affiliates are skeptical. Some see it as parternalistic meddling. Others simply aren’t sure what Fox’s intentions are and what the Fox-TWC agreement will mean to their future retrans earnings.
As the pioneer in seeking retransmission consent cash from cable systems, Nexstar CEO Perry Sook talked about the future of retrans at Wells Fargo Securities’ Technology, Media & Telecom Conference.
As promised, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation officially confirmed today that it will hold hearings on retransmission consent next week, on Nov. 17.