Will Retrans Battles Heat Up This Week?

Time Warner Cable Faces Negotiations with Journal Broadcast, CBS

Three retransmission-consent agreements expired on the Sunday before the July 4th holiday, with the three potential disconnects averted. Now, the question is will there be any programming fireworks for Time Warner Cable customers in the week following Independence Day?

Facing the expiration of their contracts at the end of June, Time Warner Cable was granted short-term retransmission extensions by Journal Broadcast for six stations in three states and by CBS Corp. for several of its owned-and-operated stations, as well as continued carriage of its cable assets, including premium service Showtime.

Meanwhile, Media General granted Dish Network a 90-day extension through September, enabling the No. 2 DBS provider to continue to carry its stations in 17 markets. In all of these cases, there was no disruption in service, as the parties elected to maintain their expired contracts.

More station groups have been seeking significant increases in retransmission consent fees in recent years, providing them with an enhanced revenue stream that has led in part to merger activity within the sector.

As Time Warner Cable and Journal Broadcast executives return to work from the July 4th weekend, they will come up on the new deadline of July 10. Late last month, TWC had said the station owner had been asking for a 200% increase in retrans fees, while the websites for the stations -- WGBA (NBC) and WACY (MNT) in Green Bay; WTMJ (NBC) in Milwaukee; KMTV (CBS) in Omaha; and KMIR (NBC) and KPSE (MNT) in Palm Springs – within the MSO’s footprint indicated that negotiations were ongoing. At the same time, they warned Time Warner Cable customers about the possibility that the channels could go dark. As of presstime, similar messaging had not been reinstituted.

As for CBS, it never declared the length of the short extension it granted to Time Warner Cable, but the parties were continuing to negotiate a renewal pact, encompassing retransmission-consent for the programmer's owned-and-operated stations as well as a trio of cable services. The discussions have been ongoing with no public finger-pointing or service disconnect warnings.

That doesn't mean things necessarily will remain quiet. Having long been the most-watched broadcast network, CBS has taken an aggressive tack when it comes to retrans, recording a 62% rise in payments from cable, satellite and telco TV providers in the first quarter of 2013. The company is seeking up to $500 million in total retrans fee in 2013, and a new contract figures to be pricey for Time Warner Cable.

As of presstime, there has been no disruption in service with TWC continuing to air CBS's O&Os in its footprint, including WCBS-TV New York, KCBS-TV Los Angeles and KTVT-TV in Dallas-Ft. Worth, plus CBS Sports Network, Smithsonian Channel and premium service, Showtime, which on June 30 premiered Ray Donovan to 1.35 million viewers the most ever for an original show on the network and 2.5 million watchers for Dexter, the largest premiere audience for the serial killer series as it begins its eighth and final campaign. A disconnect could undermine those performances, while CBS viewers could miss the adaptation of Stephen King’s Under the Dome, which has been TV’s biggest summer hit, averaging an impressive 12.5 million viewers for its first two installments.

CBS’s leverage provided by the possible loss of NFL and college football action, as well as the U.S Open Tennis Championships, remains eight weeks away.

Before Media General offered the 90-day extension, Dish had claimed the group was asking for “unreasonable increases” in retrans fees for the CBS-, NBC- and ABC-affiliated stations. The stations whose retrans contracts expired and have been granted the lengthy extensions are: CBS affiliates, WRBL (Columbus, Ga).; WHLT (Hattiesburg, Miss.); WJTV (Jackson, Miss); WKRG (Mobile, Ala.); WBTW (Myrtle Beach, S.C.); WJHL (Tri-Cities, Tennessee); and WNCT and WSPA (Greenville, N.C./Spartanburg, S.C.). NBC’s WVTM (Birmingham, Ala.), WCBD (Charleston, S.C.), WCMH (Columbus, Ohio), WJAR (Providence, R.I.); WNCN (Raleigh-Durham, Tenn.-area); WSLA (Roanoke-Lynchburg, Va.); WSAV (Savannah, Ga.,) and WFLA (Tampa, Fla.); and ABC-affiliate WJBF (Augusta, Ga.).