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TWC Braces for Retrans Battle

7/19/2010 12:01 AM Eastern

As carriage negotiations
with The Walt Disney Co. move
closer to their deadline, Time Warner
Cable dusted off its “Roll Over
or Get Tough” Internet campaign
last week, seeking to “educate”
consumers on the intricacies of
programming-cost economics.

At the same time, the nation’s
second-largest cable operator
has been made to fight a separate
ad campaign from rival Verizon
Communications aimed at
taking advantage of the potential
battle with ABC, encouraging
Time Warner Cable customers to
switch to its FiOS TV product.

Time Warner Cable’s carriage
deal for Disney’s ABC
owned-and-operated TV
stations and its cable channels, including
ESPN and ABC Family, is
scheduled to expire in September.
Disney declined to comment.

These media moves are the latest
salvos in an increasingly contentious
carriage-negotiations
season. Separately, AT&T’s carriage
battle with Rainbow Media
Holdings continued to heat up
last week, with both sides trading
barbs. AT&T claimed last week
that Rainbow threatened to pull
its cable networks — AMC, IFC,
WE TV, and Sundance Channel —
from the telco’s U-Verse television
service if a deal was not reached.
Cablevision countered by stressing
it is negotiating in good faith
and that it was disappointed that
AT&T would “publicly threaten to
take away its networks.”

Both sides have created websites
(att.com/fighting4you for the
AT&T side and www.iwantmytvchannels.com for the Cablevision
side) to state their cases.

Time Warner Cable created the
“Roll Over or Get Tough” website
(www.rolloverorgettough.com) last
November, in advance of what
proved to be a contentious battle
with Fox Broadcasting over carriage
of owned-and-operated station
WNYW in New York. That dust-up
was settled in January, with Time
Warner Cable reportedly agreeing
to a six-year retransmission consent
deal that would ultimately pay
Fox $1 per subscriber per month in
its last year. Since then, however, the
site has remained fallow.

That changed on July 14. Time
Warner Cable does not name
Disney specifically on the website,
which depicts a dollar bill
cut into segments to show where
each customer’s cable dollar goes
(6% to TWC net income, 60% to
operate the business and 40% to
programmers). A spokesman for
Time Warner Cable said the main
thrust of the relaunch was to educate
consumers, but conceded the
Verizon campaign played a role.

“As we get closer and there is
more reporting done on it, it becomes
more important for us to
continue to have this piece out there
to continue educating our customers
as to what it is they’re hearing,”
said Time Warner Cable spokesman
Justin Venech. “The Verizon ad was
certainly a catalyst, because of how
misleading it was.”

Verizon began running ads in
newspapers in Los Angeles; New
York, Syracuse and Buffalo, N.Y.;
Dallas and Tampa, Fla., on July 9,
warning the cable operator’s customers
that they could miss ABC
programming if a deal couldn’t be
reached. To avoid service disruption,
the ads urged Time Warner Cable
customers to switch to FiOS.

Venech said that Time Warner
Cable and Disney are continuing
to negotiate in good faith and
hope to reach an agreement by
the September deadline.

Verizon spokeswoman
Heather Wilner said the campaign
was aimed at letting Time
Warner Cable customers know
they have a viewing alternative.
She said the telco plans to expand
the campaign to TV and
radio, but those ads had not run
as of press time.

Verizon’s decision to kick
off the ad battle is a little
curious, especially since
it joined forces last week with 31
other video distributors — including
Time Warner Cable — in
the American Television Alliance,
a group that has banded
together to seek retransmissionconsent
reform in Washington.

Time Warner Cable responded by
placing its own full page ads in the
New York Times and the Los Angeles
Times
on July 14 stating, “Don’t Let
FiOS Scare You Into Switching.”

Last Wednesday’s ads point out
that Time Warner Cable is negotiating
with Disney and hopes to
reach an agreement before the carriage
pact expires. But the company
also adds that FiOS is not immune
to blackouts — it must negotiate its
own deals with networks or face the
same consequences. However, it’s
not clear as to when Verizon’s carriage
deals are up for renewal.

The ad ends with the simple
statement: “Can you really trust
Verizon when they use tricks and
scare tactics to sign you up for
FiOS?”

 

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