Reporters Notebook: Co-Op Draws a Line

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Newport, R.I.-The National Cable Television Cooperative Inc. is taking a tough stance against prog-ramming-cost increases.

As an example of that, the co-op is still refusing to do a deal with NBC that includes a more-than-$1-per-year, per-subscriber surcharge for Olympic Games coverage to air on CNBC and MSNBC.

At the NCTC annual meeting last week, president Mike Pandzik declared that the days of 15 percent to 20 percent license-fee increases for programming "have got to stop." Now, any programmer seeking a rate increase of more than 5 percent will have to explain that hike to the NCTC's board, according to Pandzik.

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The co-op's Olympian dilemma drew sympathy from one of cable's most prolific programmers-albeit one who is heavily involved with a huge MSO.

Ted Turner, vice chairman of Time Warner Inc. and keynote speaker at the NCTC meeting, made reference to NBC and CNBC asking operators for an Olympic surcharge.

"CNBC is socking it to you, right?" Turner said. "[Turner Network Television] gave you the Winter Olympics cable coverage for nothing last time around. We took our little hit."

As for programmers such as The Walt Disney Co.-Time Warner's nemesis in terms of retransmission consent and the America Online Inc. merger-and its ABC and ESPN units, as well as NBC, Turner suggested that operators "tell them to shove it."

Recalling the early days of the cable industry, Turner said, "We all got rich together, didn't we? That's the way I wanted it to be. I didn't want to hog it all like some of these programmers. My father always told me, 'Son, always leave a little bit for your partners. Don't take advantage of the situation, because then they won't like you. 'It's much better to have happy customers."

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Despite rampant industry consolidation, the NCTC's membership continues to rise. Attendance for this year's annual meeting, at 526, was up slightly over last year.

While at least one other co-op, 17-year-old Telesynergy Inc., folded early this year, Pandzik said that so far this year, the NCTC has gained 60 to 70 members and 1 million subscribers. The NCTC also added to its roster by picking up some of Telesynergy's former members.

"These are the men and women who love the cable business, and they intend to stay in it," he added. "The tone here is extremely upbeat."

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