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Carriage Dispute Nears a Deadline

Mar 2, 2008  •  Post A Comment

With two weeks to go before a deadline, Post-Newsweek Television stations and Bright House Networks are trying to strike a deal that will keep programming from WKMG-TV in Orlando, Fla., and WDIV-TV in Detroit on the cable operator’s menu.
“We’re very optimistic that we’ll be able to reach an agreement,” Post-Newsweek Television President-CEO Alan Frank said late last week.
A Bright House representative did not respond to a request for comment.
If no deal is reached, more than 800,000 Bright House customers in the Orlando area, the 19th-largest TV market in the country, may find themselves unable to watch CBS shows. More than 100,000 subscribers in Detroit, the No. 11 market, will lose NBC programming if the two sides don’t make a deal. That might force some viewers into the arms of satellite TV providers.
Post-Newsweek is seeking some form of payment from Bright House, the sixth-largest cable operator in the country, in exchange for keeping the stations in its packages of channels.
The station group, whose contract with Bright House expired at the end of December, has extended the deadline for an agreement three times and says a deal must be reached by midnight March 16—just four days before coverage of the popular NCAA men’s college basketball championship tournament begins on CBS.
This sort of public disagreement between station groups and cable operators has become common since 1992, when the government modified the rules that govern cable companies’ use of local broadcasters’ signals. When cable operators choose to retransmit a local broadcaster’s signal, the station has the right to demand some form of compensation.
Per-subscriber fees negotiated by cable networks range from about $2.50 for ESPN to as little as a dime for Animal Planet.
Cable operators recently complained to the Federal Communications Commission that stations sometimes use take-it-or-leave-it tactics in negotiations to extract higher fees. The National Association of Broadcasters denied the claims, saying no station has ever been cited by the FCC for being too rough at the bargaining table.
However, Mr. Frank, an executive whose station group is always in the thick of the debate on industry issues, has proven before that he will take tough stands on principle. He ended a 53-year affiliation with CBS and took Post-Newsweek’s WJXT-TV in Jacksonville, Fla., independent (with lower ratings) rather than accept an affiliation agreement he felt undervalued the station’s role in the relationship.
The dispute over how much that compensation will be in the Post-Newsweek/Bright House situation has spilled into public view.
WKMG has posted information on its Web site that tells viewers how to reach EchoStar Communications’ Dish Networks satellite TV service. People who follow that link can claim a “special bonus offer” that includes three months of free programming and a free digital video recorder.
Dish is trying to capitalize on the fight, running ads in the Orlando Sentinel advising Bright House customers to “Switch to Dish Network and receive a $50 prepaid MasterCard.”
WKMG VP and General Manager Henry Maldonado has said his station’s viewers have voiced their support of the station’s stand.

One Comment

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