Cablevision-Tribune Fight Grinds On

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Cablevision Systems’ retransmission-consent battle
with Tribune Broadcasting has entered its second
week with little hope for a speedy resolution.

The CW affiliates WPIX in New York, WCCT-TV in Waterbury,
Conn., and KWGN in Denver (previously carried in
some Optimum West markets), as well as MyNetworkTV
affiliate WPHL in Philadelphia (carried in some Cablevision
markets in southern New Jersey) went dark to Cablevision’s
3 million customers on
Aug. 17.

Later, on Aug. 25, Tribune
pulled WTIC, its
Fox affiliate in Hartford,
Conn., and cable superstation
WGN America
off Cablevision systems.

Cash is the main sticking point, which is common in retransmission-
consent fights. Cablevision has claimed that
Tribune is demanding tens of millions of dollars in fees,
while Tribune counters that it is merely requesting fair value
for its content. In the meantime, Cablevision has replaced
the Tribune channels with the Style Network while Tribune
is faced with declining ratings at one of its top stations.

Neither side would discuss details of the negotiations, but
sources familiar with the talks said little progress has been
made since the stations went dark.

According to Nielsen ratings information obtained
by Multichannel News, ratings for one of WPIX’s mostwatched
programs — the PIX 11 News at Ten with popular
anchor Jodi Applegate — plunged more than 60%
between Aug. 17 and Aug. 28 compared with the same
period last year and nearly 40% compared with the first
two weeks of August.

Total-day ratings for the channel during the same period
declined more than 35% from last year and are down 30%
compared with the first half of the month.

Tribune would not comment on the ratings figures.
Cablevision accounts for about 40% of the viewership in
WPIX’s New York metropolitan area broadcast market, so
losing access to those subscribers would obviously affect
overall ratings.

This is the second retransmission-consent battle Tribune
has been involved in this year — in April, it settled a nearly
one-week impasse with DirecTV. And as with DirecTV,
Cablevision had not paid cash for carriage of the Tribune
stations in the past.

That change in retransmission-consent strategy — cash
for carriage — could point to a desire by the broadcast group
to extract more value from its stations or to beef up their
value for a possible future sale, according to some analysts.
Tribune had its Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plan
tentatively approved in July, and some believe that its new
private-equity owners may look to eventually sell the TV
stations. Tribune has 23 TV stations in 19 markets across
the country, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Tribune declined to comment. In the past it has said
retransmisson-consent negotiations have nothing to do
with the bankruptcy process but are geared toward receiving
fair compensation for its content and the investments
it makes in its programming.

Wunderlich Securities media analyst Matt Harrigan
said it is logical that Tribune’s owners would want
to secure as many retransmisson agreements as possible.
And he expected more such disputes with other distributors
in the future.

But he added that Cablevision may have the upper hand
in this battle — a glut of local news outlets in the New York
market and Tribune’s lack of a major network affiliation
could allow Cablevision to dig in its heels.

“I think this was a fairly well-chosen fight,”
Harrigan said.

TAKEAWAY

As retransmission talks between
Cablevision and Tribune drag
on, New York station WPIX is
slipping in the Nielsens.

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