Sinclair Broadcast Group says Time Warner Cable refuses to engage in any further retransmission-consent negotiations and as a result its stations will no longer be carried on the operator's systems after midnight on Jan. 1
The broadcast station group said that Time Warner Cable has rejected its most recent monthly license fee offer averaging 10 cents per subscriber. Sinclair said the nation's No. 2 cable operator has refused to provide a financial counter-proposal, effectively ending negotiations.
Time Warner Cable held a quite different view of the proceedings. "Sinclair's statement is false. Time Warner Cable has at no time told Sinclair that we were terminating negotiations. To the contrary, it is Sinclair who has repeatedly over the last three months declared discussions to be at an end and this is more of the same from Sinclair," the cable operator said in a statement. "Time Warner Cable has presented Sinclair with at least three possible solutions, including arbitration for Sinclair's Big 4 stations. We remain open and willing to negotiate a reasonable agreement for our customers and have no intention of declaring negotiations to be at an end even in the event that Sinclair decides to pull their signals from Time Warner Cable on December 31st."
Regardless of the rhetoric, unless a retransmission-consent resolution can be reached, 33 stations are slated to go dark on Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks' systems when 2011 commences. (Time Warner Cable historically has negotiated programming deals for Bright House.)
Sinclair says some 8.5 million Time Warner Cable subscribers would be affected by a service disruption, while the cable operator puts that total at some 4 million. Sinclair owns or operates stations in such Time Warner Cable markets as Buffalo, Cincinnati and San Antonio.
In a release issued on Dec. 28, Sinclair said its most recent offer guaranteed that Time Warner Cable's price would be equal to or less than the cost agreed to by every other major cable and satellite provider with which Sinclair has completed a deal during the past two years. The broadcast group said this "most-favored nations" protection extended not only to MSO's DBS competitors, DirecTV and Dish Network, but also to an agreement reached with Charter earlier in 2010 and the pact it concluded, covering 22 stations in 16 markets, with Mediacom on Dec. 22.
"We simply do not understand why Time Warner insists on being treated better than its competition," noted Barry Faber, Sinclair executive vice president and general counsel, in a statement, "rather than accepting our equitable proposal to provide them equivalent or better pricing than is paid by their competition. It is particularly troubling that Time Warner Cable would deprive its subscribers of the extremely popular programming broadcast by our television stations when the monthly per station increase we are seeking amounts to just ten cents per subscriber, an increase made necessary by rapidly increasing programming costs at our stations.
Faber continued by saying that "with such a small increase we suspect that most of our loyal viewers would prefer that Time Warner Cable, which recently announced a fee increase of $3 per month in at least one market, stop acting on its threat to 'Get Tough' and we hope that these viewers will let Time Warner Cable know this by switching to alternative video providers, many of which charge less than Time Warner Cable and none of which are currently at risk of losing access to any of the stations involved."
Earlier, the parties had discussed arbitration as a means to conclude their retransmission-consent dispute, but never came to an accord. Sinclair first suggested arbitration on Dec. 13, but pulled back that offer after Time Warner Cable evidently requested a series of conditions, the biggest of which was that only Sinclair's Big Four major-network affiliates be included.
About half of the Sinclair stations in Time Warner Cable territory are The CW and MyNetworkTV affiliates, to which the operator has offered "must-carry" status.
Some of the stations are Fox affiliates, which evidently will not miss national primtetime programming fare like Glee and House, as well as National Football League games, because Fox and Time Warner Cable negotiated a deal as part of their comprehensive agreements reached on New Year's Day 2010. However, Fox news and other local programming would not be available to those Sinclair stations via Time Warner Cable carriage.