Policy

LIN TV, TWC Fight On Over Retrans Compensation

10/11/2008 3:45 AM Eastern

The retransmission-consent standoff between Time Warner Cable and LIN TV entered its second week, and a new one is looming for the cable operator and a Post-Newsweek TV station in San Antonio.

As of press time Friday, the nation's second-largest cable operator and LIN TV were still negotiating, officials for both sides said, but had yet to reach a new retransmission-consent deal. Thus, 15 LIN TV stations remained black on cable in 11 markets on the East Coast and Midwest.

In addition, Time Warner and ABC affiliate KSAT-TV, owned by Post-Newsweek Stations, have a retransmission-consent extension that expires at midnight Oct. 15. KSAT-TV is warning Time Warner subscribers, through screen crawls and its Web site, that the station could be dropped in that market.

Negotiations in San Antonio were continuing last Friday.

“We're hopeful on KSAT,” said Time Warner Cable vice president of public relations Alex Dudley.

On its Web site Friday, KSAT-TV noted that LIN's Austin, Texas, station, KXAN-TV, was off cable because of Time Warner's dispute with the station group.

“Time Warner keeps saying they have no intention of losing KSAT 12 on their cable system,” KSAT-TV said. “But here is what just happened in Austin.”

On Oct. 3, when their deal expired, LIN TV pulled its stations off Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks systems in Austin, Texas; Buffalo, N.Y.; Columbus, Ohio; Dayton, Ohio; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Green Bay, Wis.; Indianapolis; Mobile, Ala.; Springfield, Mass.; Terre Haute, Ind.; and Toledo, Ohio.

Time Warner said 1.5 million of its subscribers are affected, while 106,000 Bright House customers are impacted in Indianapolis.

LIN TV is seeking a 30-cent license fee for its stations. Time Warner Cable says it doesn't want to pay for broadcast signals that are available for free over the air. KSAT-TV is also seeking cash from Time Warner. Officials from KSAT-TV and Post-Newsweek couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

Last week, the American Cable Association charged that LIN TV's dispute with Time Warner Cable has lead to subscriber confusion and an unnecessary “run” on digital-converter coupons — a federal program that's already under strain — in some markets.

The ACA said that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration — the government agency responsible for distributing DTV converter coupons and certifying set-top boxes in preparation for the Feb. 17, 2009, transition from analog to digital television signals — has reported an increase in coupon requests in some markets affected by the retransmission consent dispute between LIN TV and Time Warner Cable.

News that the LIN station blackout “may be causing a run on DTV coupons is troubling,” ACA president and CEO Matt Polka said, “but it is even more disconcerting to think that many of these requests are coming from customers who do not need converters and who otherwise would not have requested these coupons.” (See “Access,” page 55.)

The National Association of Broadcasters denied the ACA's claims.

“ACA's rhetoric is completely nonsensical,” NAB executive vice president of media relations Dennis Wharton said. “Only in cable fantasy land does a campaign that successfully equips consumers with DTV converter boxes translate into confusion and failure.”

The ACA urged federal regulators to consider immediately imposing a so-called “quiet period,” during which broadcasters involved in retransmission-consent disputes couldn't pull their signals.

“LIN TV's decision to pull its signals is not only causing confusion, but it's also eating up limited resources for the DTV-coupon program, a program, which, according to FCC [Federal Communications Commission] chairman Kevin Martin, now runs the risk of running out of money,” Polka said.

Time Warner has retransmission–consent negotiations looming with Spanish-language broadcaster Univision. Time Warner told The Wall Street Journal in a story Friday that it has the right to carry a feed of Univision's national network programming until the end of next year. The cable operator has to negotiate retransmission-consent deals with local Univision TV stations this year.

“If we don't reach a retrans deal, we still have rights to the network programming, and we would just slide the network programming into any slots left open by the local,” Dudley said.

That's what Bright House is doing in Indianapolis, where it lost carriage of LIN's WIIH-TV, a Univision affiliate. Bright House is carrying a satellite feed of Univision programming in the WIIH-TV channel slot.

September