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FCC’s Wheeler to Consumers: Contract Dispute TV Blackout? You’re On Your Own

Wheeler

Wheeler

The Federal Communications Commission has decided it won’t get too involved in the increasing number of contract renewal disputes between TV networks and cable TV providers, and has refused to issue new rules governing what represents “good faith negotiations” in disputes that take channels off the lineup.

“Based on the staff’s careful review of the record, it is clear that more rules in this area are not what we need at this point,” said FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler. “It is hard to get more inclusive than to review the ‘totality of circumstances.’  To start picking and choosing, in part, could limit future inquiries.”

A growing number of disputes over the rising cost of video programming frustrate pay-TV customers who find strident messages about nasty programmers or greedy providers blocking their favorite channels after contract renewal talks fail. Cable operators, sensitive about cord-cutting, want to keep price hikes down. Wall Street and shareholders expect growing revenue from charging providers for access to programming, which has become a major revenue source for most. Wheeler wrote Congress had good intentions to put a stop to contract disputes that eventually affected the public:

Congress, in Section 325 of the Communications Act, sought to reduce the likelihood that TV viewers would face this roadblock. The law requires broadcasters and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) to negotiate for retransmission consent in good faith. Congress gave the Commission the authority to keep an eye on these negotiations, and our rules include a two-part framework to determine whether broadcasters and MVPDs are negotiating in good faith.

  • First, the Commission has established a list of nine objective standards, the violation of which is considered a per se breach of the good faith negotiation obligation.
  • Second, even if the specific standards are met, the Commission may consider whether, based on the totality of the circumstances, a party failed to negotiate retransmission consent in good faith.

In the recent STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014 (STELAR), Congress expressed concern about the harm consumers suffer when negotiations fail and sought-after broadcast programming is blacked out on their pay TV service. STELAR directed the Commission to initiate a rulemaking to consider possible revisions to our “totality of the circumstances” test.

Everyone has a different opinion of what represents “good faith” and many of these disputes quickly get acrimonious. Or worse. Take the one-month-and-counting little hatefest between Tribune Media and DISH Network also known as Satan’s Mother-in-Law v. the Zika virus. Tribune blacked out DISH customers’ access to 42 local channels in 33 markets, including WGN Chicago, WPIX New York and KTLA Los Angeles back in June. Many are major network-affiliated over the air stations. The dispute, as usual, is over money. Tribune wants DISH to bundle WGN America, a low-rated basic cable network, with its Tribune-owned stations, as a condition for renewal.

dish dispute

WGN America has little to do with WGN-TV, the over-the-air independent former superstation based in Chicago. As of late 2014, WGN America runs a vastly different schedule of syndicated sitcoms, drama series and feature films, and some first-run original television series produced exclusively for the channel. Long gone are local, syndicated, or sports shows that a viewer in Chicago would see watching channel 9 over-the-air. As a result, viewership of WGN America is 20% less than the former WGN-TV, and dropping. Many of the shows on WGN America also turn up on other cable channels, making the network a questionable addition to the lineup.

WGN America, not your father's Channel 9 from Chicago.

WGN America, not your father’s Channel 9 from Chicago.

DISH obviously has no interest in WGN America, but Tribune’s negotiators told them they better get interested, because WGN America will come along for the ride, part of any renewal for the over-the-air stations Tribune owns.

DISH is in no hurry to negotiate over the summer months, when shows are repeats and folks are on vacation. Many expect that will change once football season nears. But the battle continues anyway.

A new low was reached a few weeks ago when a frustrated Rev. Jesse Jackson claimed in an open letter that DISH’s refusal to negotiate was racist, in part because the blackout affected the show Underground, chronicling the Underground Railroad system that helped slaves escape to the northern free states.

“Is DISH using the same kind of math with ratings that the old south employed when enacting laws that counted African-Americans as three-fifths of a man?” wrote Jackson in a letter released by his Rainbow Push Coalition. “For far too long African-Americans have been underrepresented and unfavorably portrayed on television, silencing the significant contributions they have made to this country. Underground is a crucial part of a brand-new day of diversity on television that sheds a bright light on the bravery, ingenuity and power of the African-American experience, and is being used as teachable moments in homes and history classes around the nation at a time when we need it most.”.

Jackson

Jackson

DISH avoided taking the bait, responding, “We are skeptical that Rev. Jackson is truly interested in finding a fair deal for DISH customers.”

The FCC isn’t apparently interested in putting a line in the water either, steering clear of the controversy and allowing programmers and networks to continue to work things out with each other while customers watch repeating barker channels claiming none of this is the fault of their provider.

Wheeler points out he is aware of the DISH/Tribune dispute, but isn’t exactly rushing to end it.

“I summoned both parties to Washington to negotiate in coordination with Commission staff,” Wheeler wrote. “When that step failed to produce an agreement or an extension, the Media Bureau issued comprehensive information requests to both parties to enable FCC staff to determine whether they were meeting their duty to negotiate in good faith; we are reviewing their responses as I write. If that review reveals a dereliction of duty on the part of one or both parties, I will not hesitate to recommend appropriate Commission action.”

To DISH viewers, that represents a “definite maybe.”

At the end of last month DISH decided it wasn’t “good faith” when the Tribune subsidiary operating WGN America started running ads calling DISH a “dishgusting” company. Too much? Apparently so for DISH’s lawyers who filed a lawsuit.

“In a last-ditch bid to force DISH to accept its terms, DISH is informed and believes, and thereon alleges, that Tower created and broadcast, via its channels, disparaging content regarding DISH, its services and its performance,” states the complaint. “The campaign launched by Tower with these commercials cast DISH in an extremely negative light — Tower claims that DISH has not acted in good faith, that its performance and services are the worst in the industry, and even that DISH is a ‘disgusting’ company.”

Apparently, DISH maintains a disparagement clause in its old contract with Tribune, designed to stop nasty exchanges like this. Tribune called the lawsuit frivolous and the FCC today effectively called it a day.

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

Phillip Dampier September 30, 2014 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Time Warner Cable, Video Comments Off on 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.

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.

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 on Another Programming Dispute: Media General TV Stations Off DISH Network

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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

Time Warner Cable, CBS Down to the Wire on Contract Renewal Dispute

Phillip Dampier July 29, 2013 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Time Warner Cable, Video Comments Off on Time Warner Cable, CBS Down to the Wire on Contract Renewal Dispute

.

Within the hour viewers in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas will know whether Time Warner Cable and CBS have managed to reach an agreement on retransmission consent, agree to further extend talks, or choose to pull the plug on CBS affiliates in the three cities, and a handful of independent stations with it.

Negotiations are said to be tense and down to the wire, with a weekend extension expiring at 5pm ET this afternoon. Time Warner Cable customers nationwide could experience the loss of Showtime if Time Warner Cable decides to drop the pay movie channel as a negotiating tactic.

CBS’ Les Moonves confirmed this afternoon the two sides remained at odds over the exact amount the cable operator will pay per viewer for CBS-owned local stations in the three cities. If an agreement is not reached, Time Warner Cable is likely to drop the channels this afternoon.

Bloomberg News reports late this afternoon the two sides have still not reached an agreement and unless another extension is approved, CBS will be off the cable dial in New York, Dallas, and Los Angeles. (5 minutes)

twcThe cable operator upped the stakes late Friday reportedly threatening that if CBS does get removed, it will give up its coveted channel positions on Time Warner Cable indefinitely. In New York, WCBS occupies channel 2. In Los Angeles, KCBS is also on channel 2 and its sister station KCAL is on channel 9. In Dallas, KTVT is on Time Warner Cable channel 11. Low channel numbers have significant financial value to programmers, because it makes finding channels easier. Jeff Zucker from CNN has already expressed an interest is taking over channel 2 for CNN.

The dispute comes at the same time Time Warner Cable is notifying customers of rate increases on broadband and cable modem rentals. CBS is expected to recommend Time Warner customers switch to a competitor or watch shows online, presumably over TWC’s broadband service.

In Wisconsin, another retransmission consent fight with Journal Broadcast Group caused the cable company to drop those stations from its lineup. Among the stations affected in Wisconsin:  WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) in Milwaukee and WGBA-TV in Green Bay, which carry Packer pre-season games, and WACY-TV in Appleton, which carries Spanish language pre-season broadcasts.

Ellis

Ellis

State Senate president Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) wrote a letter to the cable company insisting that it give rebates to customers affected by the blackout.

“It is clear your customers are no longer receiving the service they are paying for,” Ellis wrote in a letter to the company last Friday.

But Time Warner Cable made it clear subscribers are not entitled to refunds when stations disappear from its lineup:

Stations “are sold as a package of channels. We change our programming packages from time to time, including by adding new networks to the lineup. It is not our practice to issue credits for individual networks that are offered in a package.”

In New York, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has asked CBS and Time Warner Cable to keep the stations up and running on cable until the negotiations are resolved. If they don’t Quinn has threatened to hold an oversight hearing on the matter, although her power to affect the two companies is very limited.

NY1 reports on New York City mayoral candidate Christine Quinn’s request that CBS and Time Warner keep WCBS on the cable dial until the dispute can be resolved.  (1 minute)

Updated: AMC Networks Uses Slightly Risque Mannequin In Campaign Warning About Contract Dispute With Verizon

Phillip Dampier November 26, 2012 Consumer News, Verizon Comments Off on Updated: AMC Networks Uses Slightly Risque Mannequin In Campaign Warning About Contract Dispute With Verizon

In a slightly risque move that could alienate some, AMC Networks is alerting Verizon customers to a potential contract dispute that includes the depiction of a nude woman mannequin on its campaign website.

(Image pointlessly edited by Stop the Cap!)

The illustrated image, part of a sequence informing customers about the shows they could lose if the network is pulled, is a reference to the popular series Mad Men.

The program dispute involves AMC, IFC, Sundance Channel and WEtv — all owned by parent company AMC Networks, Inc.

AMC also began running a series of television ads alerting Verizon subscribers that the networks could be removed from the FiOS TV lineup.

Verizon objected to both the tone and substance of AMC’s campaign:

“There is no risk of FiOS TV customers losing AMC imminently, as AMC Networks has incorrectly claimed,” Verizon officials said in a statement. “This is nothing more than a desperate attempt by AMCN to scare our FiOS TV customers into thinking that they will lose their programming.”

One of our readers wondered why we bothered: “You censored a plastic mannequin and called her a woman?” tweeted Shawn.

Shawn turns out to be right. Although not completely visible on the website, some additional research shows the original image was part of a bizarre promotional poster for season five of the show.

Texas Judge Allows Time Warner Cable to Maintain Local Station “Replacements” During Disputes

Phillip Dampier September 10, 2012 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Time Warner Cable Comments Off on Texas Judge Allows Time Warner Cable to Maintain Local Station “Replacements” During Disputes

When Time Warner Cable can’t reach a retransmission consent agreement with local broadcasters, it can thank a loophole left in a badly-written contract the cable company has with Nexstar Broadcasting, a Texas station owner group, for providing a stop-gap solution.

A federal judge ruled late last week Time Warner Cable was allowed to replace local affiliates with Nexstar-owned stations because their contract does not prohibit the cable operator from the practice.

When the cable company’s carriage agreement with Hearst Corporation expired in July, Time Warner replaced affected local stations in Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, Vermont and New York with Nexstar-owned stations based in Terre Haute, Ind. (NBC affiliate, WTWO-TV), Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (NBC affiliate, WBRE-TV), and Rochester, N.Y. (CBS affiliate, WROC-TV).

Viewers in Kentucky ended up getting the local news from a station in western New York, located hundreds of miles away, but cable subscribers still got to watch their favorite network shows.

Nexstar sued Time Warner in federal court to stop the practice.

But Judge Jorge Solis could find nothing in Nexstar’s agreement prohibiting the cable company from importing the distant stations.

“Nowhere in the [agreement] does Nexstar limit its retransmission consent,” Solis wrote. “It appears the language limiting the broadcast […] is not present when Nexstar gives its retransmission consent under Section 1. In fact, it is specifically omitted when describing the ‘retransmission consent’ under Section 1.”

Solis refused to grant a request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction stopping Time Warner from carrying Nexstar stations outside of their designated local broadcast areas.

Cablevision Drops Tribune-Owned WPIX, KWGN, WCCT, WPHL in Yet Another Fee Dispute

Phillip Dampier August 21, 2012 Cablevision, Consumer News, Video 3 Comments

Tribune-owned WCCT was seen on certain Cablevision systems in Connecticut.

Tribune Broadcasting Corporation’s WPIX-New York, KWGN-Denver, WPHL-Philadelphia, and WCCT-Waterbury/Hartford, Conn. were all dropped from Cablevision’s lineup late last week in the latest fee dispute between TV station owners and cable systems.

Tribune says the stations were taken off Cablevision as the two sides were in a negotiating session, even after offering the cable company an extension of their current agreement to avoid upsetting viewers.

“Cablevison took this action despite our offer of an unconditional extension of the current carriage agreement with no change in terms while negotiations continued,” Tribune said in a statement. “To be clear, Tribune was willing to provide Cablevision subscribers access to the valuable programming on these stations while working toward a new agreement. Tribune never made any threat to withdraw these stations or any demand that Cablevision remove them.”

Cablevision’s decision to discontinue the New York/Philadelphia stations affects subscribers in suburban Connecticut and New Jersey, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Long Island. KWGN is a common superstation seen on Cablevision/Optimum West systems in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Utah.

Cablevision accused Tribune’s owners of anti-consumer behavior over their demands for higher retransmission fees.

“The bankrupt Tribune Co. and the hedge funds and banks that own it, including Oaktree Capital Management, Angelo Gordon & Co. and others, are trying to solve Tribune’s financial problems on the backs of Cablevision customers,” Cablevision said. “Tribune and their hedge fund owners are demanding tens of millions in new fees for WPIX and other stations they own. They should stop their anti-consumer demands and work productively to reach an agreement.”

WPIX management counters the station is asking for less than a penny extra per day per subscriber.

Both sides are appealing to the public, but city comptroller John C. Liu is fed up.

“These blackouts are happening all too often,” Liu said.  “Cablevision, as a city franchisee and service provider, should do all it can to ensure that this blackout is resolved swiftly because New Yorkers deserve to get what they pay for, not be unfairly punished because of battling corporate interests.  If a swift resolution cannot be achieved, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications must step up to hold the provider accountable to the subscribers, who feel the brunt of this irresponsible disagreement.”

Liu adds that New Yorkers are effectively paying Cablevision for channels they no longer receive, and the cable operator is not offering any refunds.

Eventually, both sides will come to an agreement for higher payments, which will be passed along to subscribers with the next rate increase.

Bloomberg News talks with Matthew Harrigan from Wunderlich Securities about the impact of the Tribune-Cablevision dispute. Does WPIX and Tribune have enough clout to get Cablevision to cave?  (2 minutes)

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