In Wake of Retrans Deadline, Few Stations Dropped

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In the aftermath of the New Year’s Eve retransmission-consent deadline, cable operators and broadcasters across the country for the most part either struck new deals or extended their old pacts, ensuring there weren’t widespread TV-station drops, officials said Monday.

But the American Cable Association, a lobbying group for independent cable companies, warned that with the new deals operators paid more than they wanted in order to continue carrying stations, which will likely result in prices rising for consumers.

“Deals have generally got done,” ACA president Matt Polka said. “Our members basically said this to us for the most part: ‘It hurts us more to have the station off because of competition.’ That doesn’t mean that this was good for consumers, because ultimately the tale will be told as rates increase, as they have to.”

The National Association of Broadcasters said Monday that it was right when it predicted earlier that retransmission-consent fights would be minimal.

"Most of the deals got done, just as we always expected," NAB executive vice president Dennis Wharton said. "Despite the back and forth rhetoric from our distribution partners, the fact is that cable, DBS and telcos badly need broadcast programming to remain competitive. It also must be difficult for cable giants like Time Warner to complain about modestly compensating broadcasters for highly-rated programming while shelling out a double-digit increase for less-watched cable networks."

The nation’s two satellite providers, DirecTV and Dish Network, dropped stations last week in retransmission-consent spats. And cable systems lost stations in some isolated incidents, Polka said.

The ACA will be trying to gather detailed information from its members about how their rates to subscribers will be affected, since in some cases cable systems went from getting a station for free to paying license fees ranging from 25 cents to 60 cents or so, according to Polka.

“That was the overwhelming word that we had from our members, that they were stuck between a rock and a hard place, and if they wanted to survive, at least for today, and continue to provide our customers with the other advanced services, we had to swallow these deals even though we know it’s going to impact rates,” Polka said.

The satellite providers were involved in minor retransmission-consent skirmishes. For example, DirecTV dropped KJZZ-TV in Salt Lake City, Utah, the station that offers Utah Jazz basketball games.

“DirecTV continues to be interested in reaching an agreement with KJZZ, but to date, KJZZ's economic demands have been outrageous,” the satellite provider said in a statement.

“Historically, the channel has made its signal available to DirecTV at no charge and is also free over the air. Now KJZZ is requesting a significant fee for its programming and in this extremely difficult economic climate, these demands represent a potential burden on our customers,” DirecTV said. “Though we did not want to take the station down, DirecTV was notified by KJZZ that it would have to stop broadcasting its signal imminently if we did not give in to their demands. We remain willing to carry the channel while both parties negotiate in good faith.”

Previously, KJZZ had elected for must-carry, not retransmission consent, and many of the Jazz games are now available on a regional sports network, FS Utah.

On its Web site, KJZZ warned DirecTV subscribers that they were going to miss the Utah Jazz battle the New Orleans Hornets Jan. 7, Wednesday, because “the premier Jazz games are not on DirecTV.”

The other satellite provider, Dish Network, dropped the ABC affiliate KTKA-TV in Topeka, Kan., on Jan. 1.

On its Web site, the station said it offered to let Dish Network continue to carry its signal while their retransmission-consent talks continued, but “Dish continues to reject that offer and is refusing to participate in continued negotiations.”

Dish Network couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

Last week broadcaster Fisher Communications reached new retransmission-consent deals with Comcast and Charter Communications, its stations remain off Dish Network’s lineup as part of a retransmission-consent dispute.

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