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Altice End Runs Around Connecticut TV Station’s Blackout By Sending Customers to CBS All Access

“Of course you know this means war.”

Altice USA has found a way to use CBS’ All Access online streaming service against a Connecticut CBS affiliate that blacked out its signal for some Connecticut Cablevision customers.

Meredith-owned CBS affiliate WFSB-TV in Hartford has been off the Optimum television lineup in two dozen Connecticut towns as of 5pm Friday, Jan. 13 after negotiations between Iowa-based Meredith and Altice USA broke down over the price of renewing a retransmission consent contract that Altice claims is 800% more expensive than before.

That means Optimum customers in Litchfield County no longer have access to CBS programming. Or do they? Optimum’s website is redirecting affected customers to WFSB’s network — CBS — and offering a week’s free trial of CBS’ All Access, which allows viewers online access to all CBS programming on demand.

Optimum’s previously negotiated distribution deal with CBS for the All Access platform has been in place since the summer of 2015, which means CBS cannot pull the offer down from Altice’s website. That effectively means CBS is being used to undercut its own affiliate’s most important leverage — taking away popular programming until a provider finally capitulates and signs a renewal contract.

Matt Polka, president of the American Cable Association, which represents small and independent cable companies, loves it.

“Local broadcasters cannibalized by their own network!” Polka tweeted.

Altice USA has promised investors it will hold the line on programming costs even if it means finding alternatives for customers. This seems to be an example at work.

Will CBS All Access weaken Meredith’s position on WFSB to force price concessions? The New Haven Register isn’t sure, reporting there are years of “bad blood” between Cablevision and Meredith over carriage contracts:

During the last retransmission agreement negotiations in 2014, Cablevision Systems called on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate whether Meredith Corp. was meeting public interest obligations that are an important component of all television station licenses. Cablevision also sued Meredith in Connecticut’s court system under the Unfair Trade Practices Act.

The latest dispute has attracted the attention of both of Connecticut’s U.S. senators.

“I typically don’t get involved because it’s not for me to dictate the terms of a dispute between a cable company and a network,” Sen. Chris Murphy said in a statement issued Friday night. “But I haven’t been pleased with Altice’s commitment to Connecticut since it bought Cablevision.”

FierceCable reported the area’s congressional delegation isn’t happy with either company:

Connecticut’s two Democratic U.S. Senators, Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy, sent a letter addressed to both Meredith Corp. CEO Stephen Lacy and Altice USA CEO Dexter Goei.

“While we respect the private negotiations being conducted by Optimum and WFSB and make no representations as to the merits of either side’s position, we believe that the current impasse does a disservice to Connecticut families and we urge you to negotiate in good faith to bring an end to this blackout,” the Senators wrote.

Altice, meanwhile, said in its own statement, “We have been negotiating in good faith for weeks and made multiple offers to Meredith even though their initial request was for more than 800% over what we currently pay.”

Currently there are 8 comments on this Article:

  1. Feb. 8, 2017: I called Optimum customer service this morning asking if they were going to reimburse customers who are paying for a channel – CBS – which has been pulled from the lineup. I understand that they are in negotiations but the customer service man was nasty – insisting that I had to call the company which pulled the service…Optimum is one of the worst providers but we haven’t much choice here in Litchfield, CT. because it seems that Cable providers each take certain areas where they have a monopoly, where we don’t have other cable companies to turn to. Would it be legal for customers of Optimum to withhold a certain sum of money each month because the channel we paid for is no longer being provided? Also, Optimum added a sports channel to their line-up and are charging me extra for it…but I don’t want it! They never asked me. It’s like going into a supermarket and filling your shopping cart with items you need and when you reach check-out the manager comes up and throws in other items that you do not need or want…why are customers so helpless when dealing with Cable tv…especially Optimum? I basically watch CBS, News and weather and yet I pay for so many channels that I neither need or want. What are the rights of customers in all this? Thank you, Florence Sundberg, Litchfield, CT.

    • Jackie Larkin says:

      Great letter, Florence. I contacted the Governor’s office, Chris Murphy, Richard Blumenthal and Michelle Cook as well. I thing we all need to do something to make Optimum wake up like hold payment on our bill until they put WFSB back on. CBS All Access is not a solution. If I wanted to watch TV on my laptop, I wouldn’t be paying a fortune for cable! Enough is a enough. We don’t have a lot of coices, Satellite and Dish networks are not allowed at a lot of condo complexes and apartment complexes, so it is not a good option. Maybe the FCC can help. This stupid conflict has been going on for too long and CBS has the best shows on TV. I think I am going to get rid of cable and get a streaming network like Hulu or Netfflicks. At least I can see CBS shows the day after they air. Let
      ‘s end the conflict.somehow.

      • Feb. 17, 2017: Thanks for your response. I didn’t realize that Netflicks offers streaming tv…the thing is, I need the internet for the work I do so…I’ll have to look into that. The other thing about Optimum: they added a bit more than $5 dollars a month to my bill just before this fiasco of pulling CBS out of their lineup. I called and asked them why and they said they had added a sports channel. I told them I did not watch sports and I do not want that channel. It’s like going to the supermarket and putting items you need in your shopping cart and when you get to the check-out counter, the manager runs up and throws a few more items in your cart and insists you have to pay for them…this is outrageous. And as you point out, cable companies split up areas between them so we have no options but to take what they say we must have. They were rude when I asked if they were going to reimburse us for removing a channel we are paying for from their line-up. I’m pretty sure they themselves are not paying for CBS since they are no longer receiving it but they insist we pay them anyway. I live in Litchfield, CT. and there is an Optimum office not too far away and I’m going to go over and see them. If you can, let me know if you receive a response from those you wrote to…I’ll write to them also. FCC might be a way to go…please let me know if you hear anything and I’ll let you know if I do…I hope others are fighting this…thanks again, florence

        • Jackie Larkin says:

          Thanks for answering Florence. I know that if you threaten Optimum with cancellation they will send you to their “Retention Unit” and remove the five dollars from your bill and offer yu some consolation prize. At least there are other good internet providers in the area. AT&T and Frontier offer internet service. Unfortunately they teamed up with dish for their TV provider. I am seriously thi nking of keeping Optimum for internet and phone and getting Hulu and Netflicks. I do have a smart tv so it shouldn’t be hard. It’s just a pain because I will have to get a box that allows me to tape shows if I can’t watch them. The good thing about Netflicks and Hulu is that you can go back and see previous shows I believe. I know that Murphy and Blumenthal have already ontacted WFSB and Optimum. I am waiting on a response from Michelle Cook. Chris Murphy responded that people are pushing for a price by channel selection so you only get the channels you want and are charged accordingly. I will let you know if I hear anything. I live near the Litchfield border in Torrington. Have a good day, Jackie

          • Feb. 17th…I was just in Torrington yesterday to go to Staples. Thanks for the tip about Optimum…they don’t even bother to give us updates about the CBS situation because they know we have no choice in the matter. I don’t need the land phone Optimum told me to take if I wanted their ‘bundle’ … I only use my cell. People have been pushing for a price by channel selection for years but the cable providers refuse because they wouldn’t make money that way – but they can offer better deals. If a restaurant wanted you to pay for meals you didn’t order or didn’t want, there would be a major outcry but people just let the cable companies get away with everything. At the beginning of all this Optimum said that very few people watch CBS but that’s a lie…it has the best shows. Right now I can watch CBS on my computer which is not what I want…I have to type in cbs.com and it brings up the shows that were on the day before…I’m wondering if Verizon offers internet service? I had asked an Optimum rep. recently what it would cost if I just kept my internet and they said it would be very expensive so they get you either way…I wish some enterprising Americans would put together a cable company that would benefit consumers and providers alike – equally, and have it available in every town and city across America…someday perhaps. How much does it cost to have Hulu and Netflicks? I have an old Sony tv…it’s still great but I’ve had it for more than 10 years so I don’t know if Hulu and Netflicks would works on it…anyway, keep fighting and see if you can get others to join in…enjoy the sunshine, florence

            • Jackie Larkin says:

              Hi Florence,

              Verizon does offer internet and so does Charter. I believe you could get phone service from them too. If you have an older TV, you have to buy a thing called a ROKU which is a convertr bo to live stream Hulu and Net Flix, I believe you can also do it with some kind of Blu Ray device. They guys at Best Buy can help you out with that. I am thinking of getting an HD antenna and a Roku for the other services. The Hulu and Net Flix services are under $8.00 a month. Even with internet and phone, you can probably save $150 a month. I’ve been thinking of doing this for some time, but this WFSB thing has forced me into taking action. Hope this helps. If you want a good SMart TV, I just bought a 32″ Vizio with a great picture for $140 at Walmart for the bedroom. It’s worth it to do now that they are so cheap. Vizio has great ratings. Hope this helps. Jackie

              • Hi, you will probably be surprised that I do not pay as much as you may pay…since I only moved in here about a year and a half ago, I have the starter package which is about $119 a month – that may not seem like a lot but for me, it is more than I can afford. I assume that when the ‘package deal’ ends in June, the cost will go up quite a bit. Unfortunately, neither Charter nor Comcast nor Verizon offer services in this area. So if I want to watch tv, I have to go with Optimum. I don’t know about HULU or Netflix but I will check them out. I have Verizon for my cell phone so I’m not sure why they don’t have service in Litchfield. Let me share something else with you which shows how provider companies can rip us off and we haven’t much recourse – have Eversource for utilities; I live in a tiny, loft-like apartment and I do all I can to use only those utilities I need and yet the cost is about $300 dollars a month, more than friends and family who have large homes and several people living there. I have been in contact about this with Eversource for a long time…recently, after Christmas, I was away on retreat – gone for about 10 days, so I assumed my cost would be less; instead, it was higher than the previous month when I was here. I have called and e-mailed Eversource over and over asking how my bill could be so high when I was not here, when no one was here for one third of the month…no answer. No solution. Except perhaps to look for another place to live…which I really don’t want to do.
                Walmart does have great prices for TVs and perhaps at some point I’ll look into that but I have to say that my 27″ Sony Wega is in excellent shape…so we’ll see. I’m going over to visit the Optimum office next week and I’ll let you know what happens, thanks for your good advice, florence

              • Hi, I checked again and neither Verizon, Charter, Comcast or Infinity offer services in Litchfield…I don’t understand why not…they don’t offer Internet service either if I decide to just cut off cable and just have Internet…I wonder if it’s like this throughout the country? Cable providers divide up locations so that they each have a specified area where residents have no option but the one provider…? florence







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