In a brewing retransmission-consent battle, the CBS
affiliate in Columbus, Ohio, is threatening to pull its signal from Time Warner
Communications in a dispute over carriage for its sister cable service, Ohio News Network.
The Dispatch Broadcast Group -- which owns both WBNS-TV and
ONN -- is trying to use the broadcast station as a bargaining chip to secure carriage for
the regional news channel on Time Warner, which reaches about 305,000 subscribers in
"We're dismayed that they're threatening to take
[WBNS] off," said Mary Jo Green, a spokeswoman for Time Warner in Columbus.
Both sides said they were working to resolve the issue
before Jan. 1, when WBNS would be pulled off Time Warner's lineup in central Ohio.
Apart from the situation in Columbus, there are a number of
MSOs and broadcasters that still have to hammer out retransmission-consent renewals over
the coming months.
The Walt Disney Co., according to cable-operator sources,
is offering retransmission-consent for its ABC TV stations in exchange for carriage for
its 24-hour cable soap-opera channel, which debuts next year. Disney declined to comment
The last go-around, ABC Inc. -- which is now part of Disney
-- got ESPN2 distribution through retransmission consent.
So far, AT&T Broadband & Internet Services has
closed new, 10-year retransmission-consent pacts with both NBC (for its 13 owned stations)
and Fox Television Stations Inc. (for its 22 owned stations) in deals that also include
carriage of both broadcasters' digital signals.
The Columbus brouhaha involves CBS affiliate WBNS and its
corporate sibling, ONN.
The regional cable network, which does news coverage of the
entire state of Ohio, currently has 550,000 subscribers. It is carried by MSOs such as
Insight Communications Co. Inc., FrontierVision Partners L.P. and Ameritech New Media, the
latter of which competes against the incumbent cable operators in Columbus.
"The other cable carriers in central Ohio recognize
the value of ONN," said Tom Griesdorn, ONN's vice president and WBNS' vice president
and general manager. "We feel that we're providing subscribers with great
WBNS has a retransmission-consent deal with Time Warner
that expires Dec. 31, and it must be renegotiated.
If WBNS does pull its signal from Time Warner, the system's
subscribers would no longer have access to Ohio State University sports, Cleveland Browns
National Football League games and syndicated fare such as The Oprah Winfrey Show.
This could drive some Time Warner subscribers to ANM.
"ONN is a solid part of our lineup in terms of news
and information for central Ohio subscribers," ANM spokesman Geoff Potter said.
"And if the competition no longer carries WBNS after the first of the year, we expect
the river of customers who have been coming to us [from Time Warner] to become a
Time Warner in Columbus cited a number of reasons why it
hasn't launched ONN. Green said first of all, Time Warner objects to carriage of ONN being
tied to carriage of the broadcast affiliate. The system is also channel-locked in terms of
analog space, she added.
Earlier this month, the system did a soft launch of digital
cable, which will expand its channel lineup. A number of programmers apart from ONN --
such as MSNBC, ESPNews, ZDTV, Romance Classics, FX, The Biography Channel, MTV2: Music
Television and The Independent Film Channel -- are looking for carriage in Columbus,
according to Green.
Finally, ONN's monthly license fee is fairly pricey, at 25
cents per subscriber, according to Time Warner.
Griesdorn declined to discuss ONN's license fee or
specifics as to whether the regional news channel would be amenable to digital carriage.
"It would depend on what placement or tier we were on," he said.
Time Warner is considering creating its own local news
network for the area -- something the MSO has done in a variety of DMAs that it serves.
ONN would be a potential rival. But Green said Time Warner was only considering a local
news network for Columbus, and not a statewide one that would cover all of Ohio, like ONN
As part of its current retransmission agreement with Time
Warner, WBNS is doing local news inserts for CNN Headline News. During those inserts, WBNS
has been airing promos telling Time Warner subscribers to call the cable company to
Green claimed that WBNS' airing of those promos in the
inserts violates the retransmission-consent deal the TV station has with Time Warner.
Several years ago, media giants such as Disney/ABC, News
Corp. and NBC used retransmission consent for their TV stations as a chit to get cable
carriage for networks they were launching, including ESPN2, FX and America's Talking.
In some DMAs, TV stations and cable systems partnered on
local weather services as part of retransmission-consent pacts.
This year, FX wasn't able to use retransmission consent for
Fox stations to get carriage renewals: The cable network had to stand on its own. Instead,
with AT&T Broadband, for example, Fox exchanged retransmission consent for carriage of
its TV station's digital-broadcast signals by the MSO, rather than distribution for a
The looming faceoff between WBNS and Time Warner was
extensively reported earlier this month in Columbus newspapers, including The Columbus
Dispatch,the parent company of which also owns the Dispatch Broadcast Group
Those stories said WNBS would inform Time Warner by Oct. 1
that it planned to pull its signal off cable. But Griesdorn said all WBNS planned to do
was to notify area cable operators that their old retransmission-consent agreements were
set to expire the end of this year.