Cablevision Systems and Tribune Broadcasting Co. are the latest to step into the retransmission-consent fee boxing ring, after the broadcaster's WPIX and three other stations were pulled from the MSO's systems at around midnight Friday.
WPIX, affiliated with The CW, was dropped from Cablevision's New York-area lineups. The others are WCCT (CW) in Waterbury, Conn.; KWGN (CW) in Denver, carried in some of Cablevision's Optimum West markets (formerly Bresnan Communications); and Philadelphia's WPHL (MyNetwork), which had been available in a small portion of New Jersey. Cablevision is continuing to carry Tribune's WITC, the Fox affiliate in Hartford, Conn.
According to Tribune, Cablevision pulled WPIX and the other stations while the previous retrans agreement was still in effect.
"Tonight, while in the middle of negotiations with Tribune and without warning, Cablevision unilaterally removed four Tribune stations in four markets from its cable systems," Tribune said. "Cablevison took this action despite our offer of unconditional extension of the current carriage agreement with no change in terms while negotiations continued."
In a statement Friday, Cablevision said, "The bankrupt Tribune Company and the hedge funds and banks that own it, including Oaktree Capital Management, Angelo Gordon & Co. and others, are trying to solve Tribune's financial problems on the backs of Cablevision customers. Tribune and their hedge fund owners are demanding tens of millions in new fees for WPIX and other stations they own. They should stop their anti-consumer demands and work productively to reach an agreement."
Tribune claimed it was willing to continue providing its station feeds to Cablevision while the companies negotiated a new deal, and that "Tribune never made any threat to withdraw these stations or any demand that Cablevision remove them."
The broadcaster said it is asking for "less than a penny per day per subscriber" in retrans fees, well below what Cablevision pays to "providers of less well-watched channels."
Cablevision has set up a website at www.cablevision.com/tribune with its side of the dispute. The site invites customers to send a message to Tribune that reads, "Your bankruptcy is not my problem, and now is not the time to demand tens of millions of dollars in new fees from Cablevision for channels I already receive."
Early Friday, Tribune was setting up websites for each of its stations, at KeepPIX11.com, KeepPHL.com, KeepCT.com, KeepKWGN.com and KeepAntennaTV.com.
On its Twitter feed, WPIX was urging Cablevision customers to call (800) 298-3447 and tell the MSO to restore the station.
This week, a standoff between Dish Network and Sinclair Broadcast Group threatened to blank out some 70 stations in 45 cities for the satellite operator's subscribers. The two sides reached a tentative agreement early Thursday, under which Sinclair granted a two-week extension to the retrans agreement while they work out final terms.
And this spring, DirecTV subscribers lost Tribune stations for five days in a retrans fight, before the parties reached a five-year retransmission consent agreement covering 23 broadcast TV stations in 19 markets.
In 2012 so far, retrans disputes between broadcasters and pay TV operators have resulted in the loss of 69 channels at various times to viewers, an increase of 35% over last year, according to the American Television Alliance, a lobbying consortium formed by cable, satellite and telco TV providers.
Cablevision's website on the Tribune fight points customers to other sources for programming on WPIX. It notes, for example, that many CW shows including 90210, America's Next Top Model, Breaking Pointe and Vampire Diaries are available for free at cwtv.com.