UTICA — Time Warner Cable has responded to a letter from four Utica-area lawmakers to the FCC, urging the Commission to push Time Warner Cable into an agreement that would bring Utica NBC affiliate WKTV back to local cable lineups. Meantime, WKTV has its own response — including support from Nexstar Broadcasting in the form of a petition to the FCC to get Scranton’s WBRE removed from Time Warner’s Utica-area lineups.
As reported in a separate story earlier today on CNYRadio.com, two state legislators, the Oneida County Executive and the Mayor of Utica all signed a letter asking the FCC to force the two sides to reach an agreement. They argue that WKTV is the area’s only television station with a fully-staffed newsroom, and getting WKTV back on cable is key to public safety. They contend that Time Warner’s decision to replace WKTV with Nexstar-owned NBC affiliate WBRE from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa., does nothing to benefit the needs of Utica-area viewers.
In response, Time Warner issued the following statement today.
STATEMENT AND UPDATE FROM TIME WARNER CABLE REGARDING STATUS OF NEGOTIATIONS WITH WKTV
(In response to 12/28 News Release “STATE AND LOCAL OFFICIALS ASK THE FCC TO HELP RESOLVE TIME-WARNER/WKTV CONTRACT IMPASSE” Issued by Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, Assemblywoman RoAnn M. Destito, Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente and Utica Mayor David R. Roefaro)
We appreciate the interest expressed by our dedicated local elected officials, and we will continue to share updates with them regarding this situation. Two weeks ago, representatives from Smith Media walked away from negotiations hours before the expiration of our contract with them, refusing to allow us to continue carrying their channels in our line-up. We believe it is our responsibility to negotiate for a fair price on behalf of our customers, and we remain ready and eager to continue negotiations at any time. Unfortunately, the representatives from Boston Investment Partners who own Smith Media have refused to re-engage in discussions with us, with an apparent disregard for their viewers. After two weeks of this impasse, we hope to hear from Smith Media’s representatives soon and to talk with them about reaching a new agreement and returning this local programming to our customers as soon as possible.
Our thanks to a loyal CNYRadio.com/CNYTVNews.com reader who forwarded the above press release to our attention, in addition to the below response from Smith Media’s WKTV:
There has been a development related to the on going dispute between Smith Media, owner of WKTV, and Time Warner Cable.
Attached is a copy of a petition submitted to the FCC, by Nexstar Broadcasting [PDF format, 32 pages], seeking action by the Commission forcing Time Warner Cable to cease transmitting station WBRE on the Utica cable system.
Time Warner Cable replaced WKTV, the NBC affiliate in Utica, with WBRE, the NBC affiliate in Scranton, Pa., on December 16, 2010. On the same date, Time Warner Cable replaced WVNY, the ABC affiliate in Burlington, Vt., with WUTR, the ABC affiliate in Utica, on the Time Warner Cable system in Plattsburgh, NY.
WUTR is owned by Nexstar and WVNY is managed by Smith Media.
Time Warner Cable’s action of replacing network affiliates with out of market stations during retransmission disputes is unprecedented.
Nexstar’s petition to the FCC contends that Time Warner Cable failed to notify the Nexstar stations involved, the Time Warner Cable customers in the Utica and Plattsburgh area and the municipalities that franchise the Time Warner Systems involved.
There is yet to be a resolution to the dispute between Smith Media and Time Warner Cable that has resulted in the Utica area cable subscribers being without the local news and programming provided by WKTV.
A quick look through the 32-page petition sent to the FCC includes several attachments, including letters back and forth between Smith Media, Nexstar Broadcasting, Time Warner Cable, and even NBC and ABC. Among the highlights in the documents:
- Nexstar says Time Warner breached contract by bringing WBRE’s signal from Scranton into Utica, and by importing WUTR’s signal to cable systems in the Burlington/Plattsburgh market.
- Time Warner says the deal with Nexstar permits it to put WBRE and WUTR on “any” Time Warner Cable system, and the contract never included any geographical limitations.
- Smith provided copies of letters it sent to Time Warner, showing that WKTV and WVNY have agreements with NBC and ABC respectively, guaranteeing that WKTV and WVNY are the “exclusive” affiliates for their respective networks in their respective markets. Smith argues that Time Warner is violating those contracts and FCC regulations, by piping in out-of-town affiliates that offer the same network programming.
At 11:59pm tonight, it’ll be exactly two weeks since the deal between Smith Media and Time Warner expired. Soon after WKTV was removed from the affected systems, Time Warner replaced it with WBRE. The Scranton station has been in place ever since, even after Nexstar CEO Perry Sook quickly stepped in with his support, demanding Time Warner undo the changes.
As previously reported, local television stations have two options when it comes to cable coverage: they can invoke “must carry” rules, which require a cable company to carry a local station — but no money changes hands. The other option is for the station to demand a retransmission fee, but then the cable company has the right to refuse, which could lead to the current situation — stations being removed from cable lineups.
For decades, WKTV allowed area cable companies to carry the signal for free — a deal that continues on certain systems (including those in Rome and Ilion) through 2011. But now, Smith Media says it wants to begin collecting a retransmission fee to help recoup the “fair value” of the programming it provides to viewers, just as other cable networks are able to demand and collect a fee for their programming. By contrast, Time Warner has argued that it shouldn’t have to pay for stations that are available for free over-the-air, and that any fees would have to be passed along to customers in the form of higher cable bills.