Hearst and Time Warner are slugging it out over retransmission consent fees, and 13 stations in 11 markets are feeling the pinch today. Six ABC affiliates including KITV (Honolulu), WMTW (Portland, Maine), KMBC (Kansas City), KETV (Lincoln, Neb.), WCVB (Boston) and WTAE (Pittsburgh) have been dropped from Time Warner's cable packages after carriage fee negotiations broke down, as have four NBC stations, one CW station and one CBS station. Only one Hearst station remains on a Time Warner package: WISN in Milwaukee.
Retransmission consent has been a hard-fought battle on both sides. With profits at broadcast networks declining, most have opted to begin charging higher (in some cases, much higher) fees to MSO's who retransmit local broadcast signals over cable—that's why you don't have to turn off your cable box to get ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, The CW, Univision and Telemundo. The fees used to be nominal; now, since broadcast signals are harder to catch with rabbit ears after the digital changeover, broadcasters are being viewed more frequently over cable, and they're looking to leverage that popularity with MSOs used to paying little to nothing for their content.
The blackout comes after an extension of the negotiation period; the contract was scheduled to end on June 30 and was extended through July 9. This morning, none of the above channels were live, and WXII (an NBC affiliate in Winston-Salem, N.C.) had a statement on its website saying that "unless there is a change in Time Warner's position, carriage of WXII will no longer be available to you on Time Warner systems." Similar statements were posted at the other affiliates, as well (here's the KITV notice).
Time Warner's response was pointed. For five of the stations, they simply replaced the Hearst signal with another station affiliated with the same network in a nearby market. The message was clear: We don't think our viewers care about the local content on your stations as much as you think they do.
"Hearst’s demand for a nearly 300 percent increase is way out of line," said Time Warner Cable in a statement on its website. "That kind of outrageous increase is unfair to our customers and unsustainable for our business." The same page included a FAQ section with a MSO-friendly explanation of the frequency of retrans conflicts, a paragraph or so on why you shouldn't switch to another cable provider, and a quick note informing consumers that their cable bills would not be prorated for the blackout period.