TBS STOPS THE CLOCK Turner Extends Deadline For TBS Conversion


With several major MSOs still unsigned to convert TBSSuperstation to a basic network by New Year's Eve, sources close to the situationsaid Turner Broadcasting System Inc. has extended the deadline by up to four months.

At press time, MediaOne, Cablevision Systems Corp., ComcastCorp. and a few small MSOs had not agreed to Turner's 25-cent-per-subscriber,per-month proposal to convert TBS from a superstation to a basic-cable network by the Dec.31 launch date. Sources from several of those companies, however, said TBS has extendedthe negotiation period by anywhere from 30 days to 120 days for the larger MSOs.

A spokesman for MediaOne confirmed that a deal was'not likely' to happen before the end of the year, but that a 'shortextension' is something that the MSO is considering.

Representatives from Cablevision and Comcast could not bereached for comment by press time last Wednesday.

A Turner spokesman would only say that 99 percent of allcable subscribers will receive the converted TBS Superstation feed on New Year's Eve.

It is unclear, however, how the renegade operators willdistribute TBS. One MSO source said that operator would continue to offer TBS in itscurrent superstation form. By doing so, however, the MSO would have to pay copyright feesthrough June -- on top of whatever license fees TBS charges -- regardless of when the MSOwas able to reach a conversion deal with Turner.

The more likely scenario is that Turner would convert allMSOs to the basic-network platform last Wednesday, in the hopes that signed agreementscould be reached within the extended deadline.

The stumbling block apparently continues to be TBS'new licensing fees. The proposal calls for major MSOs to pay 25 cents per subscriber, permonth, to convert the network to basic. In return, Turner will offer two minutes of localad time per hour.

As a superstation, operators paid about 9 cents to 10 centsin copyright-license fees given to various entertainment guilds -- largely, but notentirely, for syndication programming -- along with minimal transmission fees.

A number of MSOs initially balked at the proposal, and manyare still worried that ad-sales revenues won't adequately make up for the increase.However, most operators -- including eight of the top 10 MSOs -- signed the agreementimmediately after Turner retained TBS' rights to National Basketball Associationgames.

One MSO executive said the talks also include contractnegotiations for other Turner network services, but he would not give specific details.

Turner chairman Ted Turner has publicly said that ifoperators do not accept the TBS-conversion deal, they could face repercussions via toughercontract renegotiations for other Turner-owned services, such as Cable News Network andTurner Network Television.

One small-MSO executive, who had not come to terms with TBSat press time, said Turner threatened to increase CNN's rate card by 7 cents persubscriber, per month, if a conversion deal could not be reached.