By Alan Pergament
Boy am I glad I kept the rabbit ears antenna that Time Warner Cable gave out in 2008 when it was in a financial dispute with Channel 4's owners that pushed the CBS affiliate and little-watched sister station CW 23 off of cable for almost a month.
Because here we go again.
On the 6 p.m. Wednesday newscast, Channel 4 ran a lengthy statement advising viewers of the possibility that the station and CW 23 will be off TWC when the present contract runs out at 5 p.m. May 31. That's still eight days away -- plenty of time to make a deal -- but the owner of both stations wants viewers to be aware of the possibility.
The issue is the same one that kept Channel 4 off cable for almost a month in October of 2008: Its owner, LIN Media, wants more money from TWC to carry its stations. Broadcasting companies believe they are entitled to such compensation because their channels are usually the most popular on cable systems. Cable companies don't want to pay too much to carry stations that viewers can get for free without cable. This is not just a Buffalo issue. It involves all of LIN's stations carried by TWC.
TWC and LIN did make a deal two years ago without too much drama. According to Time Warner spokesperson Joli Plunknette-Farmen, this time around LIN "is demanding more than a 50 percent increase (per subscriber) from the last contract" about two years ago.
Channel 4 and Channel 23 General Manager Chris Musial, who is leaving the stations at the end of the month, emailed a statement: "We are working hard to reach an agreement with Time Warner before our contract expires. However, we feel it is our duty to keep our viewers informed when a contract deadline approaches and a new agreement has not yet been reached. Our stations are important assets to the local community and we only want what is fair, so we can continue to serve our viewers."
LIN wouldn't appear to have as much leverage this time around as it did in 2008 for a variety of reasons.
For one thing, the May sweeps is over and the networks that LIN stations carry will be airing mostly reality shows and reruns throughout the summer. In 2008, the new TV season had barely begun in October. TWC viewers also were in jeopardy of losing Buffalo Bills games carried on Channel 4, the local CBS affiliate. Most likely, some of LIN's other stations were carrying NFL games as well. The NFL regular season is more than three months away now.
Additionally, more TWC cable subscribers are aware that cheap rabbit ear antennas connected to HD sets actually give a better picture than a cable signal. My rabbit ears give such a better picture that I still watch Bills games on Channel 4's digital channel instead of cable.
And then there is the advancement in technology in the almost five years since the 2008 dispute. CBS series are streamed on the internet a day or so after they air on the network and more viewers know how to connect their computers to their TVs to watch the shows than did five years ago. It isn't ideal to do it that way, but the inconvenience might be worth it to people who want to save money.
In addition, Channel 4 recently began streaming its newscasts live, and the same technology that enables cable subscribers to see network series will enable them to watch News 4 Buffalo (unless Channel 4 stops streaming if a deal isn't made).
Channel 4 News , which recently lost the ratings lead to Channel 2 News, doesn't need this argument. In fact, a case could be made that Channel 4's news decline was accelerated by the October, 2008 battle with TWC that led some local news viewers to sample its rivals.
It is TWC's position that refusing to pay LIN's demands will benefit subscribers because the increased cost is likely to be passed down to the consumer.
TWC is about as popular as Tom Brady here, but this is one case in which cable subscribers should root for it to hold the line and keep future cable rate increases down to a minimum.
taggedTelevision | TV news