Credit Disney an Assist In Hearst-Argyle Deals

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Hearst-Argyle Television Inc. and Lifetime Television may want to send The Walt Disney Co. a thank-you note after closing retransmission-consent and affiliation deals with Time Warner Cable last week.

Sources said Time Warner, stung by a scorched-earth retrans war with Disney in May, felt pressured to close a deal with Lifetime and Hearst-Argyle that included concessions the MSO previously refused to grant.

Like Disney, Hearst-Argyle-the parent company of which, Hearst Corp., owns 50 percent of Lifetime-used retrans-mission consent as leverage to launch new cable services.

Last Monday, Time Warner and Hearst-Argyle said they reached a long-term agreement that allows the MSO to retransmit broadcast signals from Hearst-Argyle stations, which include several ABC Inc. and NBC affiliates that reach 3.4 million subscribers.

Today (Aug. 21), sources said, Lifetime and Time Warner plan to announce a separate agreement that, in actuality, is tied to the retransmission-consent deal. Time Warner agreed to distribute the fledging Lifetime Movie Network as part of its standard digital tier.

An extension of Time Warner's Lifetime carriage agreement is also part of the deal, sources said. Lifetime executive vice president of distribution and business development Louise Henry Bryson negotiated the Hearst-Argyle agreement, as well as Lifetime's extension, sources added.

Time Warner, Hearst-Argyle and Lifetime officials declined to comment last week.

Retransmission-consent deals have been the driving factor in the launch of several cable networks on Time Warner Cable systems recently.

A glance at the 10 channels Time Warner's flagship New York City system plans to add to its digital lineup next week illustrates the impact retransmission consent has had on programming decisions at the local level.

Time Warner corporate executives have emphasized in the past that they prefer to allow local cable systems to decide which new networks are best suited for their markets.

But in New York, one-half of the 10 channel additions are tied to retransmission-consent deals signed by the corporate office, Time Warner Cable of New York City general manager Barbara Kelly said.

The additions of ESPNews, Toon Disney and SoapNet are tied to the broad retransmission deal Time Warner reached with Disney in May, she said. The system will also add LMN to its lineup, which, Kelly acknowledged, was tied to the Hearst-Argyle agreement.

Also, the New York system will add Fox Sports World to digital. That addition is tied to a retransmission deal Fox Television Stations cut with Time Warner last year.

Channel additions to the 1.2 million-subscriber system that are not tied to retransmission consent are Game Show Network, Techtv (the former ZDTV), adult network Pleasure, HBO Latino and a new premium channel that will run Dominican programming.

Time Warner reached another programmer-affiliation deal last week that didn't include retransmission consent: one with Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks.

The companies said the new deal extends distribution of MTV: Music Television and VH1 on all Time Warner systems and includes additional distribution of TV Land, The Nashville Network, Noggin, MTV2 and VH1 Classic to an undisclosed number of Time Warner subscribers.

Terms of the deal will see Time Warner either launch VH1 or convert the network to full-time carriage to 450,000 subscribers.

The MSO also agreed to add 3 million TV Land subscribers over the next three years and to launch TNN to an additional 200,000 subscribers.

Noggin, MTV2 and VH1 Classic will be added to Time Warner's digital tier.

Distribution of MTVN's Country Music Television, acquired by Viacom from CBS Corp., isn't included in the new deal. CMT distribution was covered in a previous agreement with Time Warner, a spokesman said.

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