WGN Becomes Bargaining Chip in Tribune-Cablevision Dispute

Fox's WTIC enters the fray as well

Looks like the stakes are getting higher as the carriage dispute between Cablevision and Tribune enters its second week. Tribune's Hartford, Conn.-based Fox affiliate, WTIC, and its flagship station WGN (based in Chicago) are both dark on Cablevision systems as of midnight Saturday. The two companies—Tribune, a station owner, and Cablevision, a distributor—are currently fighting over retrans rates for four of Tribune's stations, all of which have offered retransmitted signals gratis until now.

Tribune suggested a starting rate of about 30 cents per sub per month, according to the company (which defined it as "less than a penny a day per subscriber"), which seemed too high to Cablevision (which went with "tens of millions of dollars"). Now Tribune is playing hardball. The company owns The CW's affiliate stations in six of the 10 biggest markets in the U.S., as well as a number of high-profile Fox affiliates (Hartford-New Haven is the 30th largest market).

While Cablevision operates mostly in the tri-state area and a few Western states (the company purchased cable system Bresnan in 2010, giving it a presence in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana), giving it some 3.5 million subscribers. WGN approaches full distribution on cable—the network is in some 80 percent of cable subscribers' homes, though of course New York metro area residents mostly rely on WPIX, which has been dark since last week.

This is already bad news for Cablevision subscribers in New York's outer boroughs—densely populated areas of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx are unable to receive broadcast signals over rabbit ears since the digital changeover, and Mets fans with Cablevision subscriptions have been out of luck, especially since their team won both games this weekend on blacked-out Trib-owned CW affiliate (and major source of contention) WPIX.

With WGN and WTIC in the mix, the conflict has definitely escalated, but both sides appeared to be settling in for the long haul. The stakes aren't ultra-high yet—The CW's season doesn't start until Oct. 11—but if you're in Hartford and really like Gordon Ramsay, Hulu may be your best bet for now.