CBS, Time Warner Cable Test Viewers’ Patience

No End In Sight In Two-Week-Old Standoff
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As the blackout of CBS owned-and-operated broadcast stations in several top Time Warner Cable markets edged into its third week, both sides appeared ready to hunker down for what could be a long battle.

CBS stations in eight Time Warner Cable markets with about 3.2 million subscribers — including New York, Los Angeles and Dallas — went dark on Aug. 2 after the two sides could not reach a retransmission-consent agreement. The parties are said to be talking, but as of press time gave no signs that an agreement was imminent.

Both sides appear to be emboldened by the minimal impact the carriage loss has had on their operations. At CBS, primetime and local ratings have been up, and early indications are that any subscriber losses at TWC have been minimal.

CBS claimed that its ratings have actually been higher as the dispute has raged. During the blackout’s first seven days, the network said, primetime ratings were up 34% overall, 20% in the adults aged 18-49 segment and up 23% for adults aged 25-54.

On the local front, CBS said ratings for the local New York, Dallas and Los Angeles stations from sign-on to sign-off between Aug. 2 and Aug. 12 were even with the prior year’s. The broadcaster said average viewership in those markets is up about 6% year over year.

“Our stations have held up very well against this backdrop,” CBS Television Stations president Peter Dunn said in a statement. “We’re riding momentum from a summer of ratings growth, and August is traditionally a slow month, so the overall ratings impact is minor and the financial impact is negligible. But we know our viewers are frustrated in these markets and anxious about the start of the NFL and the new fall season, and we hope they will soon be able to get back to enjoying their favorite CBS programs.”

While the National Football League regular season is slated to kick off on Sept. 5, some analysts believe TWC can hold out for at least a few weeks longer. According to Moffett Research principal and senior analyst Craig Moffett, CBS isn’t scheduled to air its first New York Jets contest until Sept. 22 (the New York Giants play Denver on Sept. 15 on the network); the Dallas Cowboys are in the National Football Conference (CBS only airs American Football Conference matches); and Los Angeles doesn’t have an NFL franchise. While football fans are still going to want to watch games as the season starts, there won’t be added the regional pressure at least until the later weeks in the season.

And the network isn’t slated to start its new fall season until Sept 23.

In a blog post last week, Moffett noted that despite all the bluster, this battle is hardly different than countless others before it.

“At the end of the day, leverage in retransmission-consent negotiations is about who can cause whom the most pain,” Moffett wrote. “Yes, this particular dispute is made marginally more interesting by the unique competitive dynamics in co-op board-dominated NYC, where FiOS and satellite TV are often unavailable, but, still we’re talking about a relatively run of the mill battle for leverage where the broadcaster ultimately has the upper hand.”

TAKEAWAY

Time Warner Cable and CBS appear to be bearing down for a long dispute over retransmission fees.

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