Testy retransmission negotiations between LIN Television and Time Warner cable have inspired the American Cable Association to try to link negotiations in general to the possible failure of the DTV transition. It’s pointing to an increase in converter-box coupon requests in the 15 markets involved in the LIN/TW dispute (LIN eventually blacked, coming in many cases from people who otherwise would have no use for the boxes.
News that LIN TV’s decision to pull stations from as many as 2.7 million Time Warner Cable subscribers in 11 markets may be causing a run on DTV coupons is troubling," said ACA President and CEO, Matthew M. Polka. "But it is even more disconcerting to think that many of these requests are coming from customers who do not need converters and who otherwise would not have requested these coupons. LIN TV’s decision to pull its signals is not only causing confusion, but it’s also eating up limited resources for the DTV coupon program. A program, which, according to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, now runs the risk of running out of money. These disruptions of service around the time of the DTV transition might be needlessly costing taxpayers money and could be eliminating a limited supply of converter boxes from store shelves that are intended for consumers who really need them."
NAB responded that it is cable operators who seem to be exploiting the DTV transition for their own gain. EVP Dennis Wharton said, “ACA’s rhetoric is completely nonsensical. Only in cable fantasy land does a campaign that successfully equips consumers with DTV converter boxes translate into confusion and failure. If ACA truly cares about consumers, it might want to explore claims by Consumer Reports magazine that its members are deceptively using the DTV transition as an opportunity to upsell customers into higher-priced digital tiers."
At issue is a retrans negotiation “quiet period” around the 2/17/09 DTV date. NAB has offered two weeks on either side. Some in other quarters have been angling for a period running from the end of 2007 through mid-year.
RBR/TVBR observation: The fact is that cable would love to carry television for free. But operators know they need local broadcast television, and for the most part agreements are reached without draconian measures as in this case. There is no need for a half year hiatus in the normal conduct of business.