Hearst Stations Go Dark On Time Warner Cable In Contract Dispute

Time Warner Cable’s Glenn Britt Made $16.4M In 2011, Down 5.7%

UPDATE, 3:38 PM: Hearst Television President David Barrett says that Time Warner Cable’s making “exaggerated and distorted claims” about their dispute. His company wants “a reasonable increase” in line with its programming costs “and the carriage fees now paid to us by Time Warner’s competitors.” It has more than 150 other deals, and that “is the real measure…of the fairness of our proposal.” The cable company “is seeking a significant discount of market-based fees that is neither fair nor reasonable.”

PREVIOUS, 11:32 AM: The breakdown over price affects 13 communities including 2M Time Warner Cable customers, as well as Bright House subscribers in Orlando and Tampa. The stations went dark at midnight; Hearst’s contract expired on June 30, but it agreed to let Time Warner Cable continue to carry its stations through the July 4 holiday. It appears to be a garden variety retransmission consent disagreement: Time Warner Cable says on a web site that “Hearst’s demand for a nearly 300% increase is way out of line. That kind of outrageous increase is unfair to our customers and unsustainable for our business.” There’s no comment yet from Hearst. But it comes at an embarrassing time for Hearst Television President David Barrett: Just two weeks ago he told a congressional committee that blackouts hurt consumers — although he says that broadcasters are not to blame for rising pay TV prices. The impasse could hit ABC especially hard: Hearst provides the network’s programming to Time Warner Cable in cities including Boston; Portland, Maine; Kansas City; Omaha; Pittsburgh; and Honolulu. Hearst also has affiliates for NBC (Cincinnati; Winston-Salem; Orlando; and Burlington, Vt.), CBS (Louisville), and CW (Kansas City and Orlando).

One thing is unusual, though: The cable company says that it’s mitigating the damage by importing signals from other markets. Louisville viewers can see CBS shows from Rochester, NY. Cincinnati viewers see NBC programs from Terre Haute. And those in Moultonborough, NH; Plattsburgh, NY; and Greensboro, NC see NBC from Wilkes Barre. Ordinarily cable operators are not allowed to import distant signals, but that doesn’t apply in markets where stations fail to submit a formal non-duplication notice. Also, the dispute doesn’t affect Hearst’s ABC affiliate in Milwaukee — it’s subject to a side agreement involving Charter Communications.

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