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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 No Comments

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)

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

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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.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Will CBS Lose its Place on the TV Dial 7-29-13.flv

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.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/NY1 Quinn Says Dont Interrupt Video 7-29-13.mp4

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

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

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.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Cablevision Blacks Out Tribune Channels in Dispute 8-17-12.flv

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)

Special Report — Retransmission Consent Wars 2012: Disputes Becoming Daily Nuisance

Customers sitting down to watch the local news in Louisville, Ky. on Time Warner Cable (formerly Insight) now get to see stories about ongoing bankruptcy woes at Eastman Kodak, house fires in Irondequoit, road work in Greece, and Scott Hetsko’s local forecast… for Rochester, N.Y.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WLKY Louisville WLKY Remains Off the Air 7-16-12.flv

WLKY in Louisville is no longer seen on former Insight cable systems (now owned by Time Warner Cable). In its place, Louisville viewers are watching WROC-TV in Rochester, N.Y.  Here is why. (3 minutes)

No, it is not some weird sunspot reception and nobody transported you from Kentucky to western New York while you were sleeping. It’s simply another epic battle waged in:

RETRANSMISSION CARRIAGE CONSENT WARS: 2012

“Not getting the channels you are paying for does not necessarily entitle you to a refund, but does require you to pay more when a deal is eventually struck.”

WESH-TV in Daytona Beach/Orlando, Fla. is one of the Hearst-owned stations affected in the dispute with Insight/Time Warner Cable/Bright House Networks.

These skirmishes used to be commonplace around the end of the year, when carriage agreements between cable, satellite, and telephone companies with cable networks and local stations came up for renewal. When the programmer passed a figure written on a folded up piece of paper across the table to your pay television provider, the shock and awe of that number, occasionally 100-300 percent more than the year before, was the opening shot in a battle that now increasingly leads to favorite local stations or cable channels being stripped from your lineup.

In Louisville, that is precisely what happened to WLKY-TV, one of 15 stations owned by Hearst Television, taken off the lineup when Time Warner Cable/Insight/Bright House Networks could not successfully negotiate a renewal agreement. Time Warner complained Hearst wanted 300% more for each of the affected stations, an increase sure to be passed along to cable customers already long weary of endless annual rate increases. That was the same story told in other cities affected by what is now a week-long blackout. In Greensboro/Winston-Salem, N.C., Time Warner customers are doing without WXII-TV. Kansas City customers lost two local stations owned by Hearst — KMBC and KCWE. Two stations are also missing from Bright House’s lineup in Orlando: WESH and WKCF.

Hearst Television’s general manager and president of WLKY has stopped referring to those watching the station simply as “viewers.” Glenn Haygood now calls them “subscribers.” Haygood talks with WHAS Radio about the dispute and what he thinks about Insight/Time Warner Cable. (10 minutes)

Insight/Time Warner Cable customers in Louisville, Ky. are now watching CBS shows on WROC-TV from Rochester, N.Y.

But why are Louisville viewers now watching the boating forecast for Lake Ontario, several hundred miles away? Because Time Warner Cable thinks it has a signed contract with Nexstar Broadcasting Group that lets them turn several Nexstar-owned stations into “superstations,” importing them in cities where contract disputes have knocked the local station off the cable lineup. In Louisville, WLKY, a CBS affiliate, has been replaced by WROC, the CBS affiliate in Rochester. In Greensboro and several other cities, WXII, an NBC affiliate, has been replaced with WBRE in Wilkes Barre, Penn. Some other Time Warner customers are instead watching WTWO out of Terre Haute, Ind., for NBC shows.

It represents a half-measure that Time Warner Cable’s Jeff Simmermon tells Stop the Cap! is “making the best of a tough situation.”

Viewers are naturally outraged.

“I’ve always wanted to know the weather and news in Rochester, Buffalo, Ontario and Caribou,” Kelly Grether teased. “Louisville did make [WROC's weather] map believe it or not.”

Others are simply confused and engaged in must-flee TV.

“I saw the news coming on,” Greensboro resident Mona Wright told the News & Record. “It didn’t take me but one minute to figure out that these counties were nowhere around us; I changed the channel.”

Some Louisville viewers are even assuming the sales and discounts being advertised on WROC are good in Kentucky as well (often, they are not).

For now, it is difficult for Kentucky viewers to know what WROC is airing because the local on-screen program guide has not been updated to include listings for the Rochester station. Time Warner is pushing a lot of viewers to WROC’s website for program information.

Viewers hoping to practice their Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune skills during the dinner hour lost that opportunity altogether in some cities, while in the Triad of North Carolina, viewers discovered the two shows on two different channels at the same time.

For now, WROC has completely ignored its new Kentucky audience, but WBRE’s morning anchors now regularly acknowledge and welcome their viewers from several states away.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WFTV Orlando WESH Disappears from Bright House 7-10-12.flv

WFTV in Orlando reports on Bright House Networks’ customers being shut out of WESH-TV in Daytona Beach after the cable operator failed to meet Hearst Television’s demands for an increase in carriage payments.  (2 minutes)

The dispute has since enlarged to bring in side players who are unimpressed with Time Warner’s creative problem-solving:

  • Impacted stations now off Time Warner’s lineup think the “new” stations on the lineup are about as honorable as employing scab workers during a union strike;
  • Nexstar, for the second time, declares Time Warner is illegally importing their stations to unauthorized places. They are threatening to complain to the FCC and possibly sue to stop the practice. Nexstar earlier complained about a similar dispute in upstate New York which left viewers in northern New York watching WBRE in Wilkes-Barre. But the carriage dispute was settled quickly enough for WBRE to go back to being  viewable only in Pennsylvania, ending the dispute;
  • Syndicated program owners sell shows like Wheel of Fortune on a “market exclusive” basis, which means competing local stations already paying for syndicated shows do not want out of area stations also carrying those shows to local audiences, diluting their audience.
  • Advertisers on stations now off the lineup paid ad rates based on tens of thousands of cable viewers who are now probably watching another station. Some are demanding “make goods” or outright refunds to get the value for money they were originally promised.

But nobody is more caught in the middle than consumers, especially those paying for channels they are no longer getting.

“I want my money back,” says Orlando Bright House customer Luis Fernandez. “I have lost two stations on my lineup and my bill should be going down to compensate, but Bright House is refusing to credit me.”

Time Warner Cable does not usually give refunds either, arguing that its customers pay for a package of channels and the technology that delivers those networks to customers. Giving a refund for the loss of one or two stations would be tantamount to the industry’s worst nightmare: getting customers used to the idea of paying individually for every channel.

One customer willing to make himself a major nuisance in Wauwatosa, near Milwaukee, Wis., finally wore Time Warner down and secured a $5 a month discount on his bill for the length of the dispute that knocked Milwaukee’s WISN off his lineup.

“[I called] Time Warner to voice my disgust in them putting me (the paying customer) in the middle of their negotiation failures, and after reaching a ‘supervisor,’ I was able to get a discount on my monthly bill,” the reader told the Journal-Sentinel. “It wasn’t easy, but I did it.”

Hearst is encouraging viewers to drop Time Warner like a hot potato and switch to AT&T U-verse or a satellite provider like DirecTV. Negotiations seem to be continuing on a sporadic basis, but one week later, customers heading for the door have already left or are simply watching the local news on another channel.

Satellite Showdown — DirecTV vs. Viacom: Playing Down and Dirty With Everyone

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Viacom Ad.mp4

Viacom turns the tables on DirecTV’s clever ads to lambaste the satellite provider for cutting off more than two dozen cable channels owned by Viacom.  (1 minute)

If a customer took Hearst’s advice, they might find themselves out of the frying pan and into the fire. Newly arriving DirecTV customers can join the Anger Party 20 million satellite customers are now throwing over a much larger, higher profile dispute between the satellite provider and Viacom. Collateral damage: the loss of networks including Palladia, Centric, Tr3s, CMT, Logo, NickToons, VH1 Classic, TeenNick, Nick Jr., Nick@Nite, Spike, BET, VH1, TV Land, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and MTV.

Some financial analysts are calling the dispute the mother-of-all-program-fee-battles, and as they watch both sides dig in, some warn it could mean DirecTV customers won’t be watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart until August.

DirecTV says Viacom wants a 30% rate increase to renew its contract to carry the company’s networks. That is comparatively cheap contrasted with the prices Hearst wants Time Warner Cable to now pay. Analysts expect DirecTV and Viacom will eventually settle their dispute by agreeing to a 27% rate increase, but nobody knows how long the two will battle it out before an inevitable agreement is reached.

Regardless of the timing, customers will likely pay the price. Nomura analyst Michael Nathanson informed his Wall Street clients DirecTV will end up paying Viacom $2.85 per subscriber — about 60 cents more per month than it pays today. That’s tough for DirecTV to swallow, and probably even harder to pass along to customers. Satellite TV providers have some of the country’s most-frugal pay television customers who are especially resistant to rate increases.

The dispute is so high profile, both companies are bringing out high-powered executives and show talent to argue their respective cases.

Millions of dollars are at stake, and both Viacom and DirecTV are willing to fight to the death, even leaving customers on the battlefield.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/DirecTV Viacom Dispute 7-12-12.mp4

Not so fast, says DirecTV CEO Michael White, seen here presenting DirecTV’s position in the Viacom dispute for the benefit of concerned customers.  (1 minute)

“All we are trying to get is a fair deal for our customers and I’m sorry our customers are being forced into the middle of this,” DirecTV’s Michael White said. “We just think we pay a half a billion dollars a year and a billion dollar increase over five years, over 30 percent, is not justified by the marketplace or fair relative to our largest competitors or by their ratings.”

Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman counters, “In the last seven years since we did the last DirecTV deal, we have successfully and peacefully concluded affiliate agreements with every major distributor in the U.S. We are prepared to move forward. It’s unfortunate consumers for the first time are not able to enjoy our channels,” said Dauman, adding, “I don’t want to negotiate in public.”

DirecTV was telling its customers it can watch many of the missing shows for free online, until Viacom reportedly began removing that direct viewing option last week. That hardball tactic could impact everyone trying to stream Viacom’s shows — DirecTV customer or not.

“We’ve temporarily slimmed down our offerings, as DirecTV markets them as an alternative to having our networks,” a Viacom spokesman told CNNMoney. “The online content is intended to serve as a complimentary marketing tool for our partners.”

“At least they were honest about the reasons why they pulled this,” said Stop the Cap! reader Dick Armlo, a DirecTV customer in Idaho. “But fortunately, you can still find a lot of the shows on Amazon’s video on demand and Hulu.”

Customers threatening to switch providers often discover the new neighborhood they move to is just as bad as the one they left.

Dish Network customers are currently enduring a long-standing dispute with Cablevision-owned AMC Networks. The result is no AMC, IFC, Sundance Channel and WeTV on Dish. AMC is telling Dish customers to turn their dish into a birdbath and head elsewhere… perhaps to AT&T U-verse which just recently averted its own blackout with AMC over the same channels. AT&T customers can expect part of their next rate increase to cover the negotiated rate hike AMC won for itself — the one AT&T agreed to on your behalf. After all, it’s your money at stake, not theirs.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Viacom CEO on Dispute 7-12-12.flv

CNBC talks with Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman to get his views about the dispute with one of his best customers — DirecTV.  (2 minutes)

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