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All Quiet on Retrans Front

CALM SETTLES IN AFTER ‘YEAR OF THE BLACKOUT’ 1/06/2014 12:00 AM Eastern

The New Year rang in relatively quietly on the retransmissionconsent front, with a few small market blackouts as 2013 drew to a close, but minus the fireworks of years past.

Cable operators and broadcasters even managed to land a few deals early. Time Warner Cable — perhaps still smarting from its August retrans battle with CBS, when it lost more than 300,000 customers — signed long-term deals with Tribune (in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, San Diego and Indianapolis); Morgan Murphy Media (for an ABC affiliate in Spokane, Wash.); and Viacom (for its cable nets like MTV Networks and Comedy Central).

As the year neared its end, Charter Communications inked a deal with Pappas Telecasting for KWNB (ABC) and KFXL (Fox) in New England and reached a Jan. 1 deal with Atlanta-based Cox Media’s ABC affiliate WSBTV after a 14-hour blackout. Charter also signed a deal with Morgan Murphy for its ABC affiliates in Yakima and Kennewick, Wash., as the year drew to a close.

Other operators managed to squeeze out extensions as they worked on longer-term pacts. At press time, Cablevision Systems said it would continue talks with Hartford, Conn.-based CBS affiliate WFSB until Jan. 3. Cable One also received an extension from Lockwood Broadcast Group for its NBC affiliate KTEN in North Texas and Southeast Oklahoma until Jan. 3.

Gormally Broadcasting also gave DirecTV a sevenday extension to its retrans deal on Dec. 28, allowing the station owner’s Springfield, Mass., ABC and Fox affiliates to remain available to the satellite giant while they worked on an agreement.

But operators did not escape the end of the year totally unscathed.

Long-term disputes at Buckeye Cable (involving Sinclair Broadcast Group’s NBC affiliate WNWO in Toledo, Ohio) that began on Dec. 16, continued as of press time, as did Bonten Media’s Dec. 10 blackout of 16 stations in eight Dish Network markets.

The relative lack of high-profile disputes is a factor of the aftermath of the CBS-TWC dispute — which many analysts at the time said could set the tone for future retrans negotiations — as well as for the normal cycle of retrans contracts.

“It’s hard to say whether the relative quiet this December is directly traceable to the TWC-CBS dispute, but there is no question that the landscape has been irreversibly changed by the events of this August,” analyst Craig Moff ett of Moff ettNathanson LLC said. “Programmers of all stripes saw more clearly than ever that they have the upper hand, and they have been emboldened to ask for even bigger rate increases as a result. Distributors, meanwhile, have learned that there is little to be gained from holding out, and as a result, they collectively look weaker than ever in these disputes.”

The American Television Alliance, which includes the major cable, satellite and telco video distributors, said 2013 was the worst year ever for retrans blackouts, with 127 stations going dark versus 91 stations in 2012.

TAKEAWAY

The usual year-end blackout threat appeared tempered this year by August’s Time Warner Cable-CBS retrans negotiations.

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