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Frontier Dumping Sinclair’s TV Stations, Tennis Channel in Retransmission Fee Dispute

Phillip Dampier December 21, 2016 Consumer News, Frontier 23 Comments

Frontier Communications has told Sinclair Broadcast Group the asking price to renew carriage of the Tennis Channel and several Sinclair over-the-air stations is too rich for their blood, and as a result will drop the channels Jan. 1, 2017.

The most affected network will be Sinclair’s Tennis Channel, which is seen in several hundred thousand homes subscribed to Frontier FiOS, U-verse, or its new IPTV service Vantage TV.

“We are not close,” Barry Faber, Sinclair’s executive vice president and general counsel, told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

Sinclair is the largest owner of local television stations in the country — owning or operating 173 stations in 81 cities. But only a handful are threatened by this contract dispute:

Market Station/Affiliation Channel SD/HD​
Portland, OR KATU: ABC ​2/502
KATU: MeTV 463
KATU: Comet ​466
Seattle, WA​ KOMO: ABC 4/504
KOMO: Comet 464
KOMO: Grit 465
Raleigh Durham, NC WRDC: MyNetworkTV ​28 (HD)
WRDC: Grit ​56 (SD)
Minneapolis, MN (S. Metro)​ WUCW: CW ​23 (HD)
WUCW: GetTV 67 (SD)
WUCW: Grit 68 (SD)
WUCW: Comet 69 (SD)
​Myrtle Beach, SC ​WPDE: ABC 15 (HD)
​WPDE: Local Weather ​50 (SD)
​WPDE: Comet 51 (SD)
WWMB: CW ​21 (HD)
​WWMB: CW Plus ​52 (SD)
WWMB: American Sports Network ​53 (SD)
​Charleston, SC WCIV: ABC 36 (HD)
​WCIV: My NetworkTV ​37 (HD)
WCIV: Me TV ​38 (HD)
All markets The Tennis Channel Varies by market

Frontier called Sinclair’s proposed renewal price “unreasonable” and stopped responding to Sinclair’s follow-up offers, according to Faber.

“And that’s where it stands,” Faber added. “We view it as negotiations are over.”

Altice Customers Lose Starz/Encore Premium Channels in First Programming Dispute of 2018

Phillip Dampier January 2, 2018 Altice NV, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

Altice customers woke up on New Year’s Day to discover as many as 17 Starz and Encore premium movie channels missing from their lineup, replaced with little-watched alternative networks like The Cowboy Channel and Hallmark Drama.

It is the first retransmission consent dispute of 2018, and it began as 2017 ended. Altice issued a terse statement:

As of midnight December 31, 2017, Altice USA will no longer carry Starz or StarzEncore programming directly. Despite numerous attempts by Altice USA to reach a deal with Starz for continued carriage in video packages and a la carte carriage, Starz refused all offers, including an offer to extend our current arrangement.

Customers will not get a discount on their cable bill because of the loss of the premium movie networks. Instead, Altice quickly signed carriage agreements with several replacement basic cable networks including Hallmark Drama, Sony Movies, MGM HD, HD Net Movies, Flix, and Cowboy Channel. The last network on the list seemed an odd choice for the New York City market, featuring rodeos and rural living-oriented programming. Some customers were also placated with a replacement subscription to The Movie Channel.

Customers don’t consider the six replacements adequate for the loss of more than a dozen premium-priced movie channels, including STARZ, STARZ Edge, STARZ In Black, STARZ Comedy, STARZ Cinema, STARZ Kids & Family, STARZENCORE, STARZENCORE Action, STARZENCORE Classic, STARZENCORE Black, STARZENCORE Family, STARZENCORE Suspense, STARZENCORE Westerns, STARZENCORE Español and Movie Plex channels, and some plan to downgrade or cancel service.

Altice has played hardball with programmers in the past, especially those that direct-sell their programming to consumers through online streaming. In follow-up remarks, Altice essentially told customers to go and buy Starz directly from Starz itself, and took a shot at the network claiming most of their customers don’t watch their movie channels anyway.

“We are focused on providing the best content experience for our customers and continually evaluate which channels meet their needs and preferences relative to the cost of the programming imposed by content owners,” Altice officials said in a statement. “Given that Starz is available to all consumers directly through Starz’ own over-the-top streaming service, we don’t believe it makes sense to charge all of our customers for Starz programming, particularly when their viewership is declining and the majority of our customers don’t watch Starz. We believe it is in the best interest of all our customers to replace Starz and StarzEncore programming with alternative entertainment channels that will provide a robust content experience at a great value.”

Altice did expand on what it felt were unfair terms being offered to it while consumers could get the same movies and original series for less money elsewhere:

“Since our last contract renewal, Starz began offering a direct to consumer streaming service for $8.99 per month. Given that Starz is available direct to consumer through their subscription service, we have been actively negotiating to reach a deal that makes sense for all our customers, and made numerous offers of increasing value and partnership structures.

Starz wanted an all or nothing-type deal and their insistence on terms would force us to charge customers more than what the Starz OTT product costs — that would not make sense for our customers. Given the limited viewership of Starz amongst our customer base and that consumers can get Starz directly, we believe this approach is in the best interest of all of our customers who otherwise would have seen an impact on prices due to Starz’ demands.

We have simply been seeking to do what Starz itself is doing: support a Starz a la carte product, whether through our sales channels or through their OTT service.

We have reached more than two dozen agreements over the last few months that reflect the company’s commitment to both negotiate fairly and keep costs down for customers. In addition to offers to maintain packaged distribution, we proposed extending our a la carte deal in Suddenlink to include Optimum and Starz refused – this despite the fact that Starz has a la carte only deals with other distributors. We also offered to help sell the Starz OTT service to our broadband customers and they refused. We also offered to extend our current agreements.”

Analysts say it is very uncommon for a cable company to encourage its customers to directly subscribe to a service traditionally sold by the cable operator itself. Altice sought to drive home their view that selling cable programming direct-to-consumers devalues the product for cable operators, especially if the programmer sells it directly to consumers at a lower retail price than a cable operator can can buy at the wholesale rate.

“Despite all of Altice’s assertions to the contrary, the facts in this dispute are simple. Altice wanted a drastic reduction in price that was totally inconsistent with the market and flew in the face of the record popularity of our programming,” Starz said in a statement that did not refute Altice’s cost claims.

Starz offers a 7-day free trial of its streaming app, which offers on-demand access to most titles found on Starz or Encore networks. After the free trial, the service is available for $8.99 a month or $89.99 a year, which offers a 17% discount off the monthly price. The website offers more information about supported devices and streaming policies.

Contract Dispute Yanks Important TV Channel Off Dish in Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands

Phillip Dampier October 2, 2017 Consumer News, Dish Network, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

As Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands enter another week mostly in darkness, a TV station owner is accused of putting its financial well-being ahead of storm victims getting access to the latest news and developments after ordering its One Caribbean TV channel off the lineup of Dish Networks in a contract dispute.

Lilly Broadcasting pulled the station off the satellite service over the weekend in a move slammed by Dish as a cynical ploy.

Lilly has “turn[ed] its back on public interest obligations during [a] humanitarian crisis [and is using a] catastrophe to create ‘deal leverage,’” Dish Network said in a statement. “[Lilly] is demanding from Dish and, by extension, its customers unreasonable rate increases higher than the current Dish rate. Lilly has also refused Dish’s offer to match the rates paid by other pay-TV channels.”

Dish called Lilly’s move an attempt to “further blind the citizens of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands at this time, showing an unbelievable lack of compassion” and added it was a “prime example of why Washington needs to stand up for consumers and end local channel blackouts.”

Exactly how many viewers One Caribbean TV still has in either U.S. territory is unknown. Power is almost universally unavailable and many satellite dishes were turned into flying projectiles in hurricane force winds. But the optics of pulling a station delivering frequent hurricane recovery updates off the lineup at such a critical time was seen as bad publicity and Lilly quickly relented after the office of FCC chairman Ajit Pai got involved.

“Chairman Pai’s office was in touch with both Lilly Broadcasting and Dish yesterday (Oct. 1) and expressed its concern about the impact of this dispute on the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” an FCC spokesman told Multichannel News. ” We are pleased that the parties agreed to restore carriage of One Caribbean Television last night following these phone calls.”

Satellite Business News reported Lilly Broadcasting Chief Operating Officer John Christianson authorized restoring service in the storm areas.

“We have told Dish Network that they can continue to carry One Caribbean Television in Puerto Rico and the [U.S. Virgin Islands], to help those that can still see the networks keep informed as to what is happening in their region.”

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



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.”.



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.

Frontier Refuses Refunds When Its TV Package Gets Slimmed Down By Contract Dispute

Phillip Dampier January 16, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News, Frontier 2 Comments

Frontier FiOS TV customers in the Seattle area are still paying the same price for a cable television package missing one of its most popular channels and the phone company won’t lower the bill.

Since the New Year began, a retransmission consent dispute between Frontier Communications and Sinclair Broadcast Group — the nation’s largest station group owner, has meant customers can no longer watch KOMO-TV (ABC) in Seattle on their Frontier FiOS lineup.

Daily Herald columnist Julie Muhlstein pondered if that should inspire more Washington residents to retaliate with some cord cutting of their own, especially after Frontier Communications delivered an unsympathetic response to the questions many cable customers ask when channels suddenly vanish from the lineup – why isn’t the bill going down?:

Not only is FiOS my source of TV at home, The Daily Herald has a Frontier hookup. For now, there will be no watching KOMO News or ABC on our newsroom TV.

I don’t watch “The Bachelor,” but that’s not the point. Shouldn’t all local affiliates of major commercial broadcast networks — particularly the traditional big three, ABC, CBS and NBC — be the minimum of what cable providers offer? I think so.

And if Frontier Communications offers less, shouldn’t monthly bills be reduced? I think so.

That’s not the way the business works, said Javier Mendoza, director of communications for Frontier Communications. Mendoza confirmed Tuesday that Frontier’s agreement with Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. has expired. Sinclair owns Seattle-based KOMO TV, the local ABC affiliate.

“FiOS occasionally changes its channel offerings. That’s covered in our customer service agreement,” Mendoza said. “Such programming package changes are part of normal business and no discounts are available.”

In other words, tough luck and no refunds. Watch something else.

Phillip Dampier: TV retransmission consent disputes will eventually cost both sides money and customers.

Frontier may be its own worst enemy deleting major network affiliates from the lineup, because for many subscribers, those are the channels that keep them subscribed to a bloated, overpriced cable television package that includes dozens of channels they will never watch. Once off the lineup, customers begin searching for alternatives, and something as simple as a good over-the-air antenna can restore free television channels that now cost many cable subscribers several dollars a month only because they travel across a wire or through a satellite dish.

Sinclair, for its part, isn’t terribly sympathetic to the consumer either, demanding an ever-increasing amount of compensation from cable and satellite providers to carry their local stations on the lineup.

Barry Faber, Sinclair’s executive vice president for distribution and network relations, says their asking price was perfectly reasonable for other providers (even though many promptly pass those fees on to consumers in the form of a ‘Broadcast TV Surcharge’). Faber implied Sinclair offered a ‘take it or leave it’ price and Frontier left it.

“They just decided they don’t want to pay that amount. That’s their decision,” Faber said. “It’s up to subscribers to decide what they want to do. If I were a subscriber, I’d think about leaving them.”

Unfortunately for Sinclair, if subscribers go back to using an antenna for television, they will effectively no longer be filling Sinclair’s bank account either, because watching over the air television is still free, at least until someone tries to charge viewers for that as well.

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