Time Warner Cable's Other Retrans Battle: Journal-Owned Stations Remain Dark

4:55 PM PST 07/29/2013 by Alex Ben Block

The cable operator, which is currently embroiled in tense negotiation with CBS, abruptly blacked out several stations earlier this month amid contract talks.

The tense negotiation with CBS is not the only retransmission consent battle in which Time Warner Cable is currently involved.

Since Wednesday, channels owned by Journal Broadcasting Group in Milwaukee, Green Bay, Wis., Omaha, and Palm Springs, Calif., have been blacked out on TWC systems after the two sides failed to reach a new contract. The contract actually expired July 10, and some stations went black then.

Both sides reported Monday that talks continue.

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The Journal stations are still available on other services, including Verizon FIOS, Dish and DirecTV, or over the air. Most of the stations are also offering news on their websites.

A spokesman for TWC says Journal wants a “200 percent increase from the terms of the last contract with no increase in value." Journal has said what it is asking is still a small amount (spokespeople actually have compared it in interviews to being half the cost of a cup of coffee, while the entire monthly bill is equal to 56 and a half cups of coffee).

Jim Thomas, Journal Broadcasting’s vp local programming and marketing, said Monday that the company had offered TWC an extension until the end of July while talks continue, but the cable system operator had “rejected it and took us down last week at midnight.”

That was a shock to viewers. At the time, The Tonight Show With Jay Leno had gone to a commercial break that interrupted an interview with Ashton Kutcher. What viewers then saw was a message that read, “Our contract with the owners of this TV station has expired, and they are demanding a huge price increase to restore their programming – even though it is available free over the air.”

TWC also took all mention of the stations off its onscreen guide and replaced the channel listing with the letters "TWC."

Thomas says this is the first time the company has had stations blacked out in this kind of dispute after successfully negotiating 140 other contracts over the past six years.

Jon Gary Herrera, TWC's senior director of communications, says the company has successfully negotiated hundreds of retransmission consent agreements.

"We are trying to do the best for our customers," says Herrera. "We are hoping to make some progress and get the signals back on the air."

Herrera says local TV channels, which are free over the air, are viewed differently. "If it's free compared to others [cable channels like CNN or MTV] and you can get it over the air and online for free," says Herrera, "what is the value of it?"

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Herrera says there is value in offering a complete package to the subscribers and a perfect signal, but that is still different than offering customers a unique channel they can't get expect on cable or satellite.

In Palm Springs, it was NBC affiliate KMIR that was pulled Wednesday. A sister station owned by the Journal, MyNetworkTV affiliate KPSE, has been dark since July 10, when the contract originally ran out.

The other stations were not pulled until Wednesday because they were in the July sweeps period and could not go dark then because of FCC regulations, according to Herrera.

Other stations now blacked out on TWC systems are NBC affiliate WGBA and MyNetwork affiliate WACY, both in Green Bay; WTMJ, an NBC affiliate in Milwaukee (home base for Journal Broadcasting); and KMTV, a CBS affiliate in Omaha.

There are also two digital channels in Milwaukee, WTMJ-D2 and WTMJ-D3 (which carries the Live Well network), that have been blacked out since July 10.

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