Same Auld Lang Syne

Dozen Carriage Deals Inked Before Year-End 1/06/2013 7:00 PM Eastern

Cable operators and programmers rushed to the finish line to secure a handful of carriage deals and retransmission-consent agreements before they expired on Dec. 31.

About a dozen agreements, in all, were reached by the deadline last Monday, with Time Warner Cable logging the most deals — four — in the time frame. TWC, which earlier in the year said it would take a cold, hard look at its carriage pacts and could drop networks it believed charged too much for too little, made good on that promise by declining to renew its agreement with arts channel Ovation on Dec. 31.

While Ovation lost carriage on TWC, amounting to about 7 million homes for the channel that was not fully distributed on all of TWC’s systems, others were able to secure a spot with the nation’s second largest MSO. They included broadcaster Media General, AMC Networks, BBC World and Crown Media’s Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel.

Charter Communications struck perhaps the biggest of the late-inning deals, a comprehensive long-term deal with The Walt Disney Co. that includes ABC broadcast stations and networks like ABC Family, the Disney Channel and sports juggernaut ESPN. In total, the Charter agreement covers more than 70 services, mostly TV Everywhere-like authentication deals for ESPN and other channels in the Disney stable.

Suddenlink Communications’ negotiations with News Corp.’s Fox networks also went down to the wire last week. After two extensions and an offer to take the Fox cable networks a la carte, the two hammered out an agreement in principle on Jan. 3.

A few deals missed the deadline. Six Raycom Media stations in four states went dark to Cox Communications subscribers on Dec. 31 after the two parties could not reach a deal. Both sides continue to talk.

And Fisher Communications, which owns four stations in the Seattle area, pulled those properties from Click!Networks on Dec. 31 after they could not reach a deal. Click has claimed Fisher is demanding a 200% increase in rates.

While there seemed to be fewer acrimonious disputes as the year came to a close, the American Television Alliance said broadcast channel blackouts were up 78% in 2012 as 91 stations pulled their signals.

Still, Jeff Wlodarczak, Pivotal Research Group principal and media & communications analyst, said it seemed there were fewer nasty disputes in 2012, partly because of the normal business cycle and partly because of a maturing market.

“The other reason you have had less fighting is that there are enough retrans deals out there that a better retrans market rate is being established,” Wlodarczak said. “Unless a broadcaster varies wildly from the market price — while there will be some grumbling — they should get deals done.”

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