The retransmission-consent dispute between Time Warner
Communications and WBNS-TV landed in court last week, when the operator filed suit to stop
the CBS affiliate from pulling its signal in Columbus, Ohio.
Time Warner sued WBNS, which is owned by Dispatch Broadcast
Group, in Federal District Court in Columbus. In its legal papers, Time Warner argued that
it should be able to carry WBNS for two more years because the station failed to provide
60 days' written notice that it was terminating its retransmission-consent contract
with the cable operator.
Time Warner and WBNS had a three-year
retransmission-consent deal that expires Dec. 31, and they have been trying to negotiate
its renewal. But both sides are at loggerheads because WBNS wants Time Warner to carry its
regional news service, Ohio News Network, in exchange for retransmission consent.
"TWC does not want to carry ONN for editorial and
business reasons," according to the lawsuit.
The operator offered to carry ONN on a digital tier, but
WBNS rejected that compromise offer, saying it wants analog carriage for ONN. Now WBNS has
said that it will pull its signal from the cable system Dec. 31.
In a prepared statement, Terry O'Connell, president of
Time Warner in Columbus, said: "We have promised our customers we will do everything
we can to protect their right to enjoy all of 10TV's CBS programming. And if that
means exhausting every legal avenue, then we're prepared to do it."
John Zeiger, the lawyer for WBNS and Dispatch,
couldn't be reached for comment last week.
But in an interview published in Dispatch's newspaper,
The Columbus Dispatch, Zeiger was quoted as saying that the Time Warner suit was a
"frivolous complaint" that had "zero merit."
The court filing argued that under the current
retransmission-consent contract, WBNS was obligated to give Time Warner notice by Nov. 2
that it was terminating that agreement. Otherwise, Time Warner contended, the contract
automatically renews for two more years. The operator said it was not served such notice.
ONN, which now reaches 550,000 homes, stands to gain
305,000 subscribers if Time Warner agrees to carry it in Columbus.
After Time Warner's and WBNS' most recent talks
broke down, the cable operator was threatening to pull ONN off cable systems it has
acquired in the market. Those systems -- formerly owned by MediaOne Group Inc. and
AT&T Broadband & Internet Services -- total 135,000 subscribers, or roughly
one-quarter of ONN's distribution.
In its lawsuit, Time Warner argued that if it can't
carry WBNS, it will lose subscribers -- who will switch to other video services -- and ad
revenue because of decreased viewership. Time Warner would also lose WBNS' coverage
of Ohio State University games.