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Time Warner Cable’s LA Dodgers Dispute Giant Win for KDOC-TV; Paid to Carry Must-Watch Games

Struck Out

Struck Out

For most of the current baseball season, Los Angeles Dodgers fans who don’t subscribe to Time Warner Cable have been shut out, unable to watch the games shown exclusively on the extremely expensive SportsNet LA cable network, jointly owned by the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable.

Most of Time Warner’s southern California competitors balked at the asking price: about $4 a month per subscriber. Had they agreed to carry the network, subscribers would ultimately pay for it during the next round of rate hikes, whether they watched sports or not.

Time Warner Cable has a 25-year, $8.35 billion dollar contract to manage the network, and observers believe they have struck out.

“They rolled the dice and lost big time,” said Jimmy Schaeffler, head of consulting firm the Carmel Group.

With networks like ESPN commanding whatever they set as an asking price, sports team owners have rushed to get a piece of the lucrative sports network pie. Even individual teams are now demanding their own exclusive networks, hoping to charge top dollar to companies agreeing to carry them.

Angry cable customers watching their bills skyrocket can primarily blame sports programming for much of the endless increases. Around 20 regional and national sports channels now comprise 20% of the wholesale cost of cable television — a high percentage considering the average cable system now carries over 200 channels. While some basic cable networks are lucky to get 10 cents a month per subscriber, regional Fox Sports North demands $4.67 a month from each subscriber, whether they watch the network or not. Smaller independent cable systems usually pay even more.

sports fees

In southern California, the average cable subscriber pays $20 a month for seven sports channels. There was little interest raising that to more than $24 a month to carry what Dodgers team president Stan Kasten called, “a Dodger-only channel with Dodger-only content 24/7.”

“We’ve been approaching a tipping point in sports programming costs for years and the Los Angeles market has sent a strong message that we’ve reached it,” Andy Albert, senior vice president of content acquisition at Cox Communications, one of the distributors that declined to carry SportsNet LA, told the Wall Street Journal.

kdocThe embargo has cost both the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable plenty of advertising and subscription revenue. Ratings are dramatically down from an average of 228,000 viewers when the baseball games were shown on widely carried Prime Ticket, to just 55,000 today on SportsNet LA. Advertising rates have been slashed to compensate for the lack of an audience.

The cost of the dispute between Time Warner Cable and its competitors also included bad public relations, which attracted the attention of regulators at the FCC and area elected officials, who have loudly complained that viewers are increasingly caught in the middle of these disputes.

The pressure worked, and Time Warner Cable announced in mid-September it would broadcast the six final Dodgers games of the season locally for free on KDOC-TV, an independent channel based in Orange County mostly known for airing endless reality shows and reruns of off-network series. On a good day, KDOC attracts at most 18,000 viewers. But the station is doing better today — grabbing an average of 259,000 viewers last week during one Dodgers game — essentially the same audience the Dodgers used to have before SportsNet LA came along. Even better for the station, Time Warner Cable is paying KDOC to carry the games.

KDOC management is now desperately trying to figure out how to keep its new audience after baseball season ends, running promotions for its various shows as often as possible. The station is easy enough to find over-the-air and on every significant cable, satellite, and telco-TV operator. But with more than three dozen high power, low power, and digital sub-channels to choose from across Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, and Orange County, airing stale series and courtroom drama shows may not be enough.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KDOC Los Angeles New Years Show Eve Show of FAIL 12-31-12

Many Los Angeles residents became familiar with KDOC after the station attracted national media coverage for its infamous 2013 New Year’s special hosted by actor and comedian Jamie Kennedy. As viewers watched the slow motion train wreck unfold with D-listers like Shannon Elizabeth, they were treated to endless technical issues, dead air, sudden commercials in the middle of interviews, open mics, unbleeped profanity, a stand-up routine not suitable for children or broadcast television, and special musical guests like rappers Bone Thugs-n-Harmony who dropped F-bombs on live television. Nobody at KDOC thought of pulling the plug, despite violating just about every FCC content regulation. It finally ended with an inebriated Macy Gray hoping to hurry along the festivities and, as the credits rolled, a sudden on-stage fight. Kennedy thanked fast-food chain Carl’s, Jr. for sponsoring the event, which undoubtedly caused extreme discomfort until they could disavow their involvement. An exasperated KDOC engineer assembled this montage of the disaster, which is definitely not suitable to watch at work. (6:23)

DirecTV Doubles Down on Dispute Over The Weather Channel; Embracing WeatherNation Instead

Phillip Dampier February 10, 2014 Consumer News, DirecTV, Video 2 Comments

weathernationEfforts by The Weather Channel — thrown off DirecTV over a fee dispute — to suggest its replacement is inadequate may have taken a hit this morning when WeatherNation announced a significant expansion of its weather network.

WeatherNation is largely unknown outside of the 20 million DirecTV subscribers that found the Colorado-based weather network on their lineup instead of The Weather Channel in mid-January. Now the weather network has announced expanded weather services for DirecTV subscribers:

  • Local Weather Now: Access customized local weather information at the zip code level. DirecTV subscribers can tune to Ch. 362, press the red button on their remote, and access local weather and forecasts. Local weather information will also be inserted into the live WeatherNation broadcast and run every 10 minutes;
  • Severe Weather Mix: In early March, WeatherNation will activate Severe Weather Mix during major weather events showing up to six concurrent feeds of weather information, including coverage from local broadcast stations, where available, live remotes from meteorologists in affected areas, live radar with storm tracking information, NOAA weather alerts, and live coverage from top cable news channels including CNN and Fox News.

weather channel“The Severe Weather Mix and Local Weather Now services will utilize cutting-edge technology, compelling graphics, expert forecasting ability and story-telling skills to quickly and conveniently communicate complex patterns and explain weather phenomena to viewers at home,” said Michael Norton, president of WeatherNation TV, Inc. “We are committed to reliable, consistent, round-the-clock weather information that is meteorologically accurate.”

The Weather Channel was removed by DirecTV after contract renewal negotiations broke down over a requested fee increase from the programmer. DirecTV countered customers were annoyed The Weather Channel was devoting an increasing amount of its primetime programming to reality TV shows that interrupted forecast information. It also claimed the weather network’s ratings were declining.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/The Weather Channel fans speak out from The Weather Channel 2-14.mp4

The Weather Channel is airing viewer comments about the loss of the network from DirecTV’s lineup. (2:06)

The Weather Channel Is Off DirecTV Over a $0.01 Rate Dispute

Phillip Dampier January 14, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, DirecTV, Video 4 Comments

weather channelThe Weather Channel has been removed from DirecTV’s lineup and replaced with WeatherNation, a much-smaller channel based in St. Paul, Minn., because the popular weather network reportedly sought a $0.01 monthly rate increase.

DirecTV subscribers told Stop the Cap! the channel change happened just after midnight, although WeatherNation was already a part of DirecTV’s lineup.

“This is unprecedented for the Weather Channel,” said David Kenny, CEO of the Weather Channel’s parent company. “In our 32 years, we have never had a significant disruption due to a failure to reach a carriage agreement.”

directvThe Weather Channel has launched a campaign to restore the network that carries the impression DirecTV does not care about the safety of their customers. The Weather Channel executives have stated their severe weather coverage is unparalleled and would leave satellite dish customers in rural areas without important information about dangerous weather.

But Dan York, responsible for DirecTV content, said weather information is available from a variety of sources, especially smartphones, and The Weather Channel has drifted away from its core weather mission, devoting up to 40 percent of its programming to reality TV shows.

bring back weather

The two sides are far apart, even arguing over the amount of the increase The Weather Channel wants for its programming. Executives at The Weather Channel claim their requested increase amounts to $0.01 per month, per subscriber, on top of the $0.13 average cost distributors pay for the weather network. DirecTV says it is substantially more than that and it seeking a 20% rate cut due to declining ratings.

The Weather Channel lacks the clout major corporate conglomerates like NBC Universal, Time Warner Entertainment, or Viacom have when negotiating contract renewals. Instead, it is counting on its loyal audience to bring the fight to the satellite provider.

So far, viewers seem to be responding. An anti-DirecTV website run by The Weather Channel has received more than 700,000 page views and reportedly brought 150,000 complaint calls to DirecTV customer service.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ The Weather Channel Off DirecTV 1-14-14.flv

The Wall Street Journal reports the advent of smartphones has taken a significant toll on The Weather Channel’s viewership, leading DirecTV to ask for a 20% rate cut. (4:17)

Another Programming Dispute: Media General TV Stations Off DISH Network

Phillip Dampier October 1, 2013 Consumer News, Dish Network, Video Comments Off

media generalMedia General today issued a statement saying they have failed to reach a retransmission consent agreement with DISH Network and 18 local stations in the eastern half of the country are off the satellite provider’s lineup as a result.

The stations:

  • Alabama: WVTM-NBC in Birmingham, and WKRG-TV in Mobile
  • Florida: WFLA-NBC in Tampa
  • dish logoGeorgia: WJBF-ABC in Augusta, WRBL-CBS in Columbus and WSAV-NBC in Savannah
  • Mississippi: WHLT-CBS in Hattiesburg and WJTV-CBS in Jackson
  • North Carolina: WNCT-CBS in Greenville, WNCN-NBC in Raleigh-Durham and WYCW-CW in Asheville
  • Ohio: WCNH-NBC in Columbus
  • Rhode Island: WJAR-NBC in Providence
  • South Carolina: WCBD-NBC in Charleston, WBTW-CBS in Florence-Myrtle Beach and WSPA-CBS in Greenville-Spartanburg
  • Tennessee: WJHL-CBS in Tri-Cities
  • Virginia: WSLS-NBC in Roanoke-Lynchburg

“Our highly rated television station is an important asset to our local community and it is unfortunate that DISH does not recognize our fair market value,” said WNCN general manager Douglas Hamilton. “Although we have successfully completed agreements with other cable and satellite operators, DISH has refused to reach a similar agreement.”

Media General has been approving extensions of DISH’s retransmission contract since it expired in June, but the broadcast station group owner denied an extra extension of the contract that expired Sept. 30.

Media General is in the process of merging with Young Broadcasting — a deal that was also originally announced in June. DISH already has a retransmission agreement with Young and hoped to bundle the extension into that agreement, but Media General refused.

“The only reason for Media General to reject that offer is to try to squeeze consumers for more money, to the tune of five times what DISH currently pays,” said Sruta Vootukuru, DISH’s director of programming. “We’re working on behalf of our customers to keep the programming at a fair price.”

Affected Media General-owned TV stations are telling viewers to use a traditional antenna or switch to one of DISH’s competitors.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WNCN Raleigh WNCN Agreement With DISH Expires 10-1-13.mp4

WNCN’s general manager Doug Hamilton explained to viewers why the station was no longer on DISH Network’s service in Raleigh, N.C. (1 minute)

Post TWC-CBS Dispute, Other Networks Preparing to Demand Their Own Increases

cbs twcJust weeks after Time Warner Cable and CBS settled a dispute over retransmission fees, other broadcasters and networks are preparing to make new demands for increased compensation from their cable, satellite, and telco IPTV partners at prices likely to provoke more blackouts.

Despite repeated protestations from Time Warner that over-the-air stations and networks deserve lower fees than cable-only networks, once the two parties went behind closed doors, the cable company quickly agreed to pay considerably more for CBS programming. Sources say CBS made a deal that will run up to five years and includes more than $1.50 in fees per subscriber, up from between 50-85 cents per month, depending on the city served, under the old contract. CBS had asked for about $2 a month. Effectively, the company will earn more than that because Time Warner also agreed to renew both the CBS Sports Network and Smithsonian Channel, which cost extra.

“There is a new template here. Two dollars is the new holy grail,” Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan told Reuters.

Fox was the highest paid network before the CBS deal, collecting close to $1.25 per month per subscriber. ABC receives 50-65 cents and NBC less than that.

Harrigan predicts the other networks will race to raise their own prices, with Time Warner Cable (and others) likely forced to raise rates early next year to cover increased costs.

In the war for compensation, programmers hold most of the leverage.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ Lessons Learned CBS 9-2-13.flv

The Wall Street Journal reports the dispute between Time Warner Cable and CBS set new industry precedents on the value of broadcast stations and networks and how their programming is distributed on digital platforms. (2 minutes)

There have already been local station blackouts in 80 cities so far this year, with the likelihood last year’s record of 91 markets will be broken before Thanksgiving. In almost every instance where a popular network is involved, the pay television provider eventually capitulates because of subscriber complaints or cancellations.

Moonves

Moonves

Time Warner Cable admits its dispute with CBS cost the company business, both from prospective new customers going elsewhere and customer disconnects. Time Warner also spent money advertising its side of the dispute and paid to distribute free antennas to affected subscribers.

CBS’ Les Moonves had predicted Time Warner would eventually meet most of the network’s compensation demands before football season arrived. He was right.

“CBS is the winner. Content owners always win these negotiations, it’s just a matter of how much they won,” said Craig Moffett of Moffett Research. “They have all the leverage. Consumers don’t get mad and trade in their channel when these fights drag on. They go looking for a different satellite or telephone company.”

Almost 200,000 Time Warner Cable television customers left during the second quarter, and company officials admit that trend continued during the third quarter as the dispute dragged on. Time Warner Cable is likely to end the year with fewer than 11.5 million video subscribers, a loss of several hundred thousand this year.

Sources say one major sticking point that kept CBS off Time Warner Cable systems for nearly a month wasn’t about money. Instead, it was about digital distribution rights.

Time Warner Cable wanted CBS on its TV Everywhere app TWCTV and was also concerned about CBS selling content to online video streaming competitors that could accelerate cord-cutting.

Time Warner Cable did win permission to offer Showtime on its digital streaming platform and on apps for portable devices. But Time Warner will not get to carry local CBS-owned stations on streaming platforms, a significant blow. The cable company will also have to pay more for streamed and on-demand content.

In the end, CBS got almost everything it wanted and Time Warner Cable was handed back its largely unfulfilled wish list and a bigger, retroactive bill subscribers will eventually have to pay.

“We wanted to hold down costs and retain our ability to deliver a great video experience to our customers,” Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt said in defense of the agreement. “While we certainly didn’t get everything we wanted, ultimately we ended up in a much better place than when we started.”

Moonves gloated to various trade publications and investors that CBS went unscathed after the month-long dispute.

“Our national ad dollars did not go down,” Moonves told attendees at the recent Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Media Communications & Entertainment Conference. “There were no such things as make-goods and there was no harm done financially to CBS Corporation.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Moonves CBS Got Fair Value for Our Content 9-7-13.flv

CBS’ Les Moonves has won his dispute with Time Warner Cable, says Les Moonves in this interview with Bloomberg TV. (10 minutes)

Comcast owns both NBC and the cable companies that carry its local affiliates.

Comcast owns both NBC and the cable companies that carry its local affiliates.

Cable rate increases are not likely to stop with the agreement with CBS. Analysts predict NBC, ABC, and FOX will be seeking similar rates when their contracts come up for renewal. Altogether, every cable, telco IPTV, and satellite subscriber could see rates increase up to $6 a month for the four major American networks.

“Any time one of these larger networks sets the new standard in terms of pricing for their programming, the rest follow,” Justin Nielson, an analyst for SNL Kagan, told Hollywood Reporter. “In most cases it’s been CBS and FOX trailblazing what the rates should be and then ABC and NBC following.”

Comcast-NBC’s Steve Burke is already there. Burke told investors affiliates should be paying 20 to 25 percent more for cable networks such as USA, Bravo, SyFy, CNBC and MSNBC .

“We’re not paid as much as we should be given our rating and positioning by cable and satellite companies,” Burke said. “I see no reason why we won’t sort of draft behind the other broadcast networks and get paid in a similar way.”

Burke predicts NBC will earn between $500 million to $1 billion annually from increased retransmission consent fees comparable to what CBS and FOX receive.

Next week, DISH Networks faces the expiration of their contract with ABC/Disney-owned channels, including the Cadillac-priced ESPN. The outcome of renewal negotiations may serve as an indicator for where rates are headed in the world of retransmission economics.

A growing number of elected officials in Washington are paying attention as they and their constituents live through one programmer blackout after another. At least four pieces of legislation have been introduced to deal with the problem in very different ways, according to Bloomberg News:

The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act

This law, known as STELA, dates to 2004 and gives satellite companies a license to provide local TV stations, just as cable operators do. The current law is set to expire at the end of 2014, with most observers calling its reauthorization a near certainty. The debate is mainly over how “clean” the STELA reauthorization bill will be as it emerges from the legislative process, with the pay TV companies urging lawmakers to address the issue of retransmission disputes. Broadcasters are working for a “clean” bill, written narrowly to address the satellite companies’ immediate needs. “There’s nothing clean about the current retransmission system,” says Brian Frederick, a spokesman for the American Television Alliance, a coalition of pay-TV companies. Two House committees held hearings on the law this week. A final bill and vote are expected next year.

Video CHOICE (Consumers Have Options in Choosing Entertainment)

Representative Anna Eshoo, a Democrat who represents much of Silicon Valley, introduced this bill Sept. 9 aimed at ending blackouts. “Recurring TV blackouts, including the 91 U.S. markets impacted in 2012, have made it abundantly clear that the FCC needs explicit statutory authority to intervene when retransmission disputes break down,” Eshoo said in a press release. (The FCC gets involved now only if one party accuses the other of negotiating in bad faith.) The bill would unbundle broadcast stations from a cable package and prohibit a broadcaster from requiring a pay TV operator to take affiliated cable channels to obtain more popular channels. That issue is at the heart of why Cablevision sued Viacom in February, following a contentious negotiation.

Eshoo’s bill would also require the FCC to study programming costs for sports networks in the top 20 regional sports markets. The rising fees for sports programming—led by ESPN—is considered one of the major influences behind rising cable bills and the power that content creators such as Disney hold in negotiations. Cable companies have praised Eshoo’s bill, while broadcasters are not fans. Don’t expect to see it get far in a Republican-led House.

Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013

This bill, introduced in May by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), would end the long era of the cable television bundle, that phenomenon by which you pay for hundreds of channels and find yourself watching only about two dozen, or fewer. This summer, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal signed on as a Democratic co-sponsor, but there’s been no similar sponsors on the House side. Blumenthal explained his support of the bill in an August interview with the Hollywood Reporter:

“What I hear from cable consumers overwhelmingly is, ‘give us freedom of choice. Don’t make us pay for something we don’t want and won’t watch. Why am I paying for—you name a channel you don’t like or five or ten or them—just so I can watch the one I do want.’ That’s overwhelmingly the sentiment of people who buy this product. So this bill just gives voice and force to that sentiment.”

Next Generation Television Marketplace Act

This bill from Representative Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, and former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, also a Republican, dates to December 2011 and would deregulate the entire television market, top to bottom. It would repeal compulsory copyright licenses, the legal mechanism by which content owners are required to let pay TV companies carry their programs, if they are paid a fee for the content. The bill, which would also dismantle the system of retransmission fees, is essentially an exercise in carrying free-market ideology to its logical conclusion. The problem? It would require a countless number of individual deal negotiations—any radio or television station that wanted to carry programming (i.e., all of them)—would need to strike deals with every programmer, yielding an inefficient system that would likely prove unworkable. Lawyers would love the bill, but don’t expect it ever to pass Congress.

In fact, none of these bills are expected to pass through both the gridlocked House and Senate this year.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Les Moonves Says It Would Be Dumb For Lawmakers To Change Retransmission Rules 9-4-13.flv

CNBC also talked with CBS’ Les Moonves about CBS’ views towards compensation and distributing content online. (13 minutes)

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