It’s the same old story – a broadcaster and a cable company reach an impasse on renewing a retransmission consent contract. The deadline on the old contract expires and the stations are pulled from the cable system. Before too long, without government intervention, an agreement is reached. Peace is restored to the market, and broadcast service is restored to cable subscribers. Such was the case in the dispute between Smith Media and Time Warner Cable.
The DMAs involved in the dispute were Utica NY and Burlington VT-Plattsburgh NY.
TWC took the extraordinary step of importing signals from other markets to replace Smith’s stations, which were pulled upon expiration of its contract with TWC 12/15/10. Two of the replacement stations belonged to Nexstar, which protested the move to the FCC.
NBC WKTV-TV was replaced by Nexstar’s WBRE-TV Wilkes-Barre/Scranton PA. Nexstar already has Fox WFXV and also has an SSA with Mission Broadcasting’s ABC WUTR-TV in the Utica DMA, meaning that for the duration it had ties to three stations operating there.
In Burlington-Plattsburgh, Smith’s ABC WVNY-TV was replaced, ironically, with WUTR, and Smith’s Fox/CW WFFF-TV was replaced with a Watertown Class A, WNYF-CA, owned by United Communications Corporation.
The use of a Wilkes-Barre station in Utica was particularly troubling to the local population, particularly Mayor David Roefaro, who threatened to boot TWC out of the market wherever possible when its franchise renewal comes up.
In this negotiation, details of which were kept under wraps as is typical, both sides expressed satisfaction with the deal.
WKTV reported: “Smith Media Vice President and WKTV General Manager Vic Vetters explained the importance of the decision. He said, ‘With this final agreement in place, WKTV can now focus singularly on what we do best, which is serving the communities of Utica, Ilion, Oneonta, Rome, Hamilton, and surrounding areas. Throughout the past few weeks, WKTV has been humbled by the support that it has received from local viewers, businesses, and, leaders. WKTV is also very grateful for the efforts of Senator Griffo and Assemblywoman Destito, County Executive Picente, Utica Mayor Roefaro, and the entire Utica Common Council for their efforts to facilitate the prompt resolution of our negotiations with our cable partner.’”
TWC also indicated its happiness with the arrangements and claimed victory. Time Warner Cable’s Terence Rafferty said, “We said from the start we wanted to stand up for our customers, and reach an agreement that helped hold down the cost of television. We believe we have accomplished that. We thank our customers for standing strong with us during these negotiations, and are pleased that our viewers can once again enjoy their local station’s programming as early as tomorrow.”
RBR-TVBR observation: TWC went to some extreme lengths in this case, importing distant replacement signals into the Smith markets against the will of the importee. Some, including this publication, believe that some MVPDs are provoking disputes in hopes of getting Washington to tilt the balance their way. In the end, this is more evidence that the system works as is – both sides are happy, or so they claim, and the FCC’s only public act was to suggest that local residents get a pair of rabbit ears or employ some other remedy to retain their ability to view Smith’s stations.