SYRACUSE — You probably heard of the well-hyped corporate battle between Fox and Comcast over cable TV carriage… but since Comcast doesn’t operate here, you probably didn’t care that much. But now, there’s a corporate battle that could upset local cable television customers when the new year rings in: Sinclair Broadcast Group is threatening to pull Fox 68 (WSYT) and My 43 (WNYS) off the air, if it and Time Warner Cable don’t reach an agreement to renew carriage rights by December 31.
Unlike the Comcast dispute, this one doesn’t involve Fox directly: only Sinclair. So while Comcast temporarily lost Fox’s local affiliates and a handful of Fox-owned cable channels, the Time Warner dispute only involves local broadcast stations owned by Sinclair. Local stations that could be impacted have links on their websites, to a rather lengthy Q&A page, explaining Sinclair’s stance.
Sinclair’s website says it believes Time Warner doesn’t pay enough for the rights to carry Sinclair’s stations, “which it resells” to cable subscribers. But, the station owner avoids calling it a “dispute,” instead saying in the end it represents nothing more than the failure of two companies to reach a business agreement, something that happens in the business world thousands of times a day.”
On the other hand, Time Warner’s “Roll Over or Get Tough” website has its own Q&A page. The cable company explains, “We’re working hard to reach an agreement that will prevent any interruptions in these channels, and are optimistic that we can do so.”
Time Warner blames retransmission consent “rules created nearly 20 years ago” that allow local broadcast stations to either demand carriage of their stations, or to negotiate for the rights to carry those signals. As a product of the rule, Time Warner asserts that “companies who own local broadcast TV stations are increasingly demanding cash or other compensation that drives up a cable, satellite, or telephone company’s cost of doing business, and eventually the prices charged to customers.”
Sinclair says viewers who don’t want to lose WSYT and WNYS can try to tune the stations in over-the-air with an antenna, or switch to competitors like Verizon FiOS or a satellite dish company. Time Warner says even Verizon and the dish companies are “will eventually face similar negotiations, and potential blackout threats, from TV stations when its agreements expire.”
Typically, cable companies and content providers don’t disclose the terms of their agreements. As a result, if Sinclair is successful in getting a higher price for its stations, and if Time Warner increases rates next year, it will be difficult for Time Warner customers to tell exactly how much of that increase may have been caused by a new Sinclair deal. Time Warner says agreements are up for renewal with other providers all the time, but the majority of the deals are reached “without event.”