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NewsChannel 9 Could Be Pulled Off Verizon FiOS Thursday

SYRACUSE — By the end of the week, Verizon FiOS television customers could see NewsChannel 9 (WSYR-TV) disappear from their lineups.  Verizon’s rights to retransmit WSYR-TV expire on Thursday, January 12.  As of Sunday night, WSYR-TV says talks are underway, but “we do not believe” a deal will be reached soon enough to avoid a blackout for FiOS customers.

The negotiations between Verizon and WSYR-TV’s parent owner, Newport Television are similar to those we watched about a year ago, when Time Warner Cable temporarily lost WKTV in Utica, and narrowly averted blacking-out Syracuse’s WSYT and WNYS.  (It’s also similar to Time Warner’s current blackout of MSG, though we haven’t covered that since MSG is a cable network, not a local station.)  Basically, it’s all about money.  FCC “must carry” regulations give broadcast television stations two options when it comes to cable (or in this case, fiber optic) coverage:

  1. A station can force a cable company to carry their signal.  In this case, the cable company must comply, but does so for free.
  2. A station can demand fees or conditions in exchange for “retransmission consent,” the same way many cable networks do.  In this case, the cable company has the freedom to refuse the terms.  If an agreement can’t be reached, the station can be dropped from the cable company’s lineup.

In the past, stations have argued that cable companies profit from retransmitting their local programming, and therefore, they deserve a cut of the action.  But cable companies often argue, if the signals are available over-the-air for free anyway, they shouldn’t have to pay for retransmission consent.  Specifics like these haven’t been mentioned on WSYR-TV’s website, and we didn’t see any statements on Verizon’s FiOS website.  But here’s the complete text of the notice seen on on Sunday night:

Status of Carriage of 9 WSYR on Verizon FiOS
The current contract by which Verizon FiOS has the right to carry 9 WSYR expires on January 12th, 2012. We have reached deals with all other cable and satellite providers in the Syracuse market for carriage of 9 WSYR. As operators of 9 WSYR, we are currently working to reach a new agreement with Verizon FiOS. However based on the current status of those discussions, we do not believe Verizon FiOS will be carrying 9 WSYR after January 12th, 2012. In the event 9 WSYR cannot reach an agreement with Verizon FiOS, only Verizon FiOS subscribers would be affected. Please note that 9 WSYR will continue to be broadcast over the air, in addition to being carried on DIRECTV, Dish Network, Time Warner Cable and numerous other cable providers. We encourage viewers of 9 WSYR who are Verizon FiOS subscribers to make alternative arrangements in order to continue viewing our great ABC programming line-up including Castle, Revenge, Grey’s Anatomy and 9 WSYR Local News. Verizon FiOS subscribers can call Verizon FiOS at 1-800-837-4966 to let them know that you value 9 WSYR and will consider cancelling your Verizon FiOS service if 9 WSYR is not carried. We at 9 WSYR value our viewers and apologize for any inconvenience this is causing. We will update our viewers on the status of our Verizon FiOS negotiations both on our website and on our station’s local news broadcasts.

It appears that the “deal” in question involves not only NewsChannel 9, but other stations owned by Newport Television.  Similar notices can be found on the websites of other Newport stations in markets where Verizon FiOS operates, such as Fox 23 in Albany and CBS21 in Harrisburg, Pa.

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