CBS and Time Warner Cable Resume Negotiations -- at a Distance

"Under the Dome"

Meanwhile TWC subscribers in Wisconsin, where Journal Broadcasting stations are also blacked out, file a class-action suit as the carriage dispute approaches its second week.

Even as the war of public war of words continues, CBS Inc. and Time Warner Cable have resumed negotiations on a new retransmission consent agreement -- sort of.

They are not actually sitting in a room together, but apparently are trading messages and ideas in other ways. Sources close to the talks suggest they aren't really making much progress but rather are doing this for political reasons. Earlier this week at a hearing before a government committee in New York City, one of the elected officials pushed them to resume discussions, so they are doing so, but the sides still appear to remain far apart.

The lack of real progress is something acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn is unhappy about. She said at a press conference in Washington, D.C. after the FCC's monthly public meeting on Friday that the commission is continuing to monitor the dispute. This follows a statement she made to Broadcasting & Cable that if the dispute continues, she "would take appropriate action."

"Quite frankly, I am deeply disappointed that the parties seem to be unable to reach a retransmission agreement," she said. "I am really distressed that consumers and viewers are being adversely affected and my primary concern remains with them. We will continue to urge both parties to stay and resolve in good faith this issue as soon as possible."

Meanwhile Time Warner Cable has been hit with a class-action suit in the other stalemated negotiations that they are involved in with Journal Broadcasting Group, whose stations have now been blacked out in Milwaukee, Green Bay, Omaha, Palm Springs and elsewhere on the cable operators systems -- in some cases since July 10 when that contract expired, and, for others, since July 25.

Three customers of Time Warner Cable sued on Thursday in Milwaukee County Circuit Court seeking class-action status on behalf of all TWC subscribers who no longer receive WTMJ-TV, Channel 4 in Milwaukee, which is a NBC affiliate. The suit was filed by Steven Delonge and Paul Scoptur of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and Stephen Raymonds of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Scoptur is an attorney and his firm Aiken & Scoptur filed the suit.

The lawsuit is seeking a days credit for each day a customer's service is interrupted for more than four hours and unspecified damages. They cite a Wisconsin statute that relates to service interruptions. It specifies that no individual's claims or attorney's fees will be more than $74,000.

Time Warner Cable has said in relation to the CBS negotiations that they have a policy of not paying compensation of any kind to subscribers when any channels are blacked out because they often switch around their channel lineup. However, they do pay compensation for pay TV subscribers, in this case to Showtime or TMC or Flix, who have their service disrupted.

A Time Warner spokesman told The Hollywood Reporter on Friday that "negotiations (with Journal Broadcasting) continue with no meaningful progress. We have been communicating with our customers in Wisconsin this week letting them know options on where they can find tonight’s preseason Green Bay Packers Game, including the local (Spanish language) Telemundo affiliate, an antenna and / or online. As for the suit, we have not seen it and therefore can’t comment."

Separately on Friday, CBS released ratings information for their owned stations in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. A spokesperson says the TWC blackout have had "minimal impact" on the CBS station ratings.

"The combined population of these three markets exceeds 43 million people," reads a CBS statement. "Since the TWC blackout began seven days ago (August 2), the primetime audience watching WCBS, KCBS and KTVT have declined by just 46,000 people compared to the previous week. This translates to just one-tenth of one percent of the available audience in these markets."

CBS says, in fact, its ratings have grown this summer.

"The impact on WCBS, KCBS and KTVT’s local newscasts has also been minimal," the statement continues. "There has been no week-to-week change in the adult 25-54 ratings (the primary demographic for local news advertisers) at 5 a.m., 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The station’s 5 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. newscasts have, on average, fluctuated by one- to two-tenths of a rating point in adults 25-54 compared to the previous week."

"August is traditionally one of the lowest months of the year for ratings and advertising revenue," adds the CBS statement, "making the overall financial impact of the blackout negligible."