Negotiations Extended at Eleventh Hour in Two Program Fee Disputes

Sinclair/Time Warner Cable and E!/Dish have agreed to short-term extensions of their existing deals, meaning customers won’t lose access to programming at the start of the new year.

 

Negotiations in two program fee disputes were extended Friday, just hours before the ball was set to drop in Times Square – and the deals were set to expire.

Sinclair Broadcasting and Time Warner Cable as well as Dish Network and Comcast cable channels E! Entertainment and Style Network have agreed to extend their talks, meaning customers won’t lose access to programming when both agreements expire at midnight Friday.

“We’re pleased that we’ve reached an extension with Sinclair Broadcasting that will allow our customers to continue to receive all Sinclair Broadcasting stations uninterrupted through Jan. 14 and allow us to continue negotiating to reach a long-term agreement,” TWC said, noting that it will post updates for customers at www.rolloverorgettough.com.

Meanwhile, E! and Style said in a statement that they and Dish “have agreed to a short-term extension in hopes of reaching a long term solution."

A Dish spokesman confirmed that the parties extended their contract until Tuesday.

Also on Friday, satellite TV giant DirecTV said it has concluded retrains deals with Granite, Gannett, Red River Broadcasting, KLAS-TV and Sarkes-Tarzian broadcast groups on the heels of reaching a new agreement with Hearst Television the previos day.

However, the satellite provider failed to come to an agreement with Northwest Broadcasting, meaning customersin Binghamton, N.Y., Medford, Ore., Yakima and Spokane, Wash., and Laredo, Texas, will lose access to DirecTV at midnight Friday.

The disputes are the culmination to a 2010 that featured a slew of particularly public and bitter program fee disagreements.

 As the year started, TW Cable, the second-largest U.S. cable operator, had a retrans dispute with News Corp.'s Fox, which got resolved after a short-term extension of the previous arrangement.

The new year will now start off for TWC without the loss of signals from Sinclair, which operates 58 TV stations, including 20 Fox affiliates, in upstate New York, Ohio, the Carolinas and San Antonio, Tx, among others.

TW Cable had previously said that about 4 million of its 12.5 million subscribers would be affected by a blackout.

Sinclair had asked for a 10 cents per subscriber per month increase in retrans fees to an estimated 25 cents.

Earlier in the week, Sinclair said that TW Cable had rejected its latest offer and refused to engage in further negotiations, but sources said that the two companies continued to stay in contact. 

TW Cable countered that it has "at no time told Sinclair that we were terminating negotiations," and that it "remains open and willing" to work toward a solution.

Wall Street analysts have argued that due to its size, TW Cable is in a stronger position in this dispute. Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce this week said that pulled local Sinclair station signals won't have a material effect on TW Cable's financials or its stock.

“We expect that TWC will not incur significant programming increases or lose subscribers in this Sinclair dispute,” Collins Stewart analyst Thomas Eagan said in a note to investors on Thursday. “This dispute is notably different [from] several prior retransmission disputes where the broadcaster held the leverage.” 

One example was this fall’s particularly contentious retrans battle between News Corp’s Fox and Cablevision that took two weeks to be resolved.

E! and Style’s dispute, meanwhile, focuses on fees for cable networks instead of broadcast signals.

On Thursday, Comcast had said the parties were negotiating, while Dish had indicated the parties were at a stalemate.

"We are trying to reach a fair agreement, however, it is our belief they will once again turn their backs on their subscribers by dropping the networks and holding E! and Style fans hostage," the networks had said in a statement.

Dave Shull, senior vp programming at Dish, had replied: “Dish Network has been negotiating diligently with Comcast for some time for continued carriage of E! Entertainment Television and Style. We’re disappointed that Comcast is now unwilling to engage in good faith negotiations.”

 

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