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Time Warner Cable Agrees Not to Black Out CBS Channels as Talks Continue

Les Moonves - H 2013
Monty Brinton/CBS
Les Moonves

UPDATED: The decision was reversed only minutes after TWC said it was turning off the networks in the New York, Los Angeles and Dallas/Fort Worth areas, with the companies later setting a new Friday deadline for their carriage talks.

Minutes after Time Warner Cable said it is turning off all the CBS Inc.-owned channels in the millions of homes it serves in the New York metro area, the Los Angeles region and Dallas/Fort Worth, the cable operator has agreed to keep CBS channels on the air as talks continue.

The corporate drama unfolded Monday night as retransmission consent negotiations stalled late Monday, and the cable company announced it would have to black out the Smithsonian Channel and pay channels Showtime, TMC, Flix and, by later that night, the signals for the CBS local stations in New York (duopoly), Los Angeles (duopoly) and Dallas/Ft. Worth.

“At the request of CBS, we have halted going dark on their channels,” a TWC spokesperson said after midnight New York time in a statement to the press. “I'll update you when I have more information I can share.  Thanks very much for your patience everyone.”

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In an update at 5 a.m. ET, the spokesperson said that the two companies have agreed to an extension until Friday 5 p.m. ET while negotiations continue.

If it does black out CBS stations eventually, the nation’s second-largest cable company would become the first to black out CBS in history. Once called the Tiffany Network, CBS remains the leader in total viewing, as it has for a decade.

In its statement announcing talks had broken down Monday, TWC said: “The outrageous demands for fees by CBS Corp. have forced Time Warner Cable to remove several of its networks and broadcast stations from our customers' lineups.”

In its initial response, CBS said in a statement: “They continue to engage in a public campaign of disinformation and voodoo mathematics (featuring wildly inflated percentages) while doggedly restating their positions. Time Warner Cable seems incapable of accepting the concept that the value of a company's programming should be in line with its popularity."

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In fall 2012, CBS CEO Les Moonves said at an investor conference his network would get paid in the future for what its content is worth to big cable and satellite distributors. The blackout is a result of that decision to seek a dual revenue stream -- advertising and subscriber fees -- just like cable channels.

CBS has run ads in print and on the air warning viewers to call the cable company and insist they keep the stations on. In its first statement after TWC said it would pull the signals, CBS took an aggressive tone.

“It is no mystery why this company has dropped more than 50 television stations from its service in the last five years alone, some as recently as last week,” the CBS statement warned.  “CBS remains resolute in the pursuit of fair compensation for our programming and will use the full resources available to us to make sure that Time Warner Cable subscribers are aware of its short-sighted, anti-consumer strategy. In the end, of course, an agreement will be reached. We continue to hope that outcome may be achieved very soon and we can get back to focusing on delivering great content to the customers we share.”