Some cable channels could go 'black,' Time Warner warns

Cable giant launches ad campaign, ‘get tough’ Web site as negotiations with broadcasters, programmers near Dec. 31 deadline.

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RALEIGH, N.C.Time Warner Cable is making a preemptive strike against broadcasters and other programmers whose contracts with the nation’s No. 2 cable provider expire at year’s end.

Faced with the prospect that some channels and programs could go “black” – off the network – Time Warner unveiled a marketing campaign Wednesday that seeks customer input about the negotiations.

Should Time Warner roll over or get tough? So asks the ad campaign on TV and in newspapers as well as a Web site.

The negotiations could have an impact for local viewers.

Two TV stations in the Triangle could be affected in the “get tough” debate – WLFL and WRDC. Both are owned by Sinclair Broadcasting. According to the Wall Street Journal, Sinclair is one of the broadcasters whose agreement with Time Warner expires at year’s end.

Capitol Broadcasting’s two Triangle-area stations (WRAL and FOX50) won’t be impacted by the dispute since its agreement doesn’t expire until next June, according to WRAL General Manager Steve Hammel.

“We have not begun our negotiations with Time Warner, but we have many years of very good partnership with them,” Hammel said. “I am very confident our negotiations will be successful.”

Time Warner’s campaign says programmers are making “unfair price demands.”

“Some programmers and stations want increases of up to 300 percent,” said Melissa Buscher, director of media relations for Time Warner in the Carolinas.

“Advertising revenues are in a slump,” she added, “and some programmers are looking to cable to make up the shortfall."

Cable companies pay programmers fees to carry programs. If no agreement is reached, Buscher said the content providers “have the option to go black.” However, she said Time Warner would prefer to carry programs even as negotiations continue.

Time Warner is looking to gather support from the public through the new Web site.

“We acknowledge that people don’t want their rates to go up,” Buscher said. However, higher fees could be the result if programmers secure higher payments.

Buscher declined to identify specific stations or programming that could be affected but did note there were “several” across the Carolinas.

“At this point we are not trying to attack any local broadcaster,” she said. “We just feel that we need to find a better way. Our customers are being held hostage.”

In a statement, Time Warner Chairman and Chief Executive officer Glenn Britt said the company has “some tough choices to make, and we want to make sure we’re doing what’s best for our customers, so we’re asking them to help us decide what to do.”

The Web site went live at noon Wednesday.

Time Warner has more than 14 million customers nationwide.



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