WXII off Time Warner Cable, due to contract dispute
Jul 11, 2012 (Winston-Salem Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Many viewers in the Triad woke up Tuesday morning to an entirely different station in the space normally occupied by WXII-Channel 12.
Overnight, WXII, the local NBC affiliate, went off the air on Time Warner Cable as a result of a contract dispute between the cable company and Hearst Television, which owns WXII.
As of late Tuesday, WXII was still not on Time Warner Cable.
Time Warner Cable has temporarily replaced WXII with WBRE, an NBC affiliate from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., owned by Nexstar Broadcasting Group. That arrangement allows viewers to see network programming, but not local programming, including WXII's newscasts. The stations also may air different syndicated programs.
"Certain rules limit our ability to import TV signals from other cities," said Scott Pryzwansky, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable in the Carolinas. "We have done so where those rules currently permit it. Fortunately, locally, we have made arrangements to bring customers WBRE so that our customers can still view their favorite NBC network programming."
The dispute between Time Warner and WXII involves the fees for retransmission consent, which allows a cable company to carry a broadcast channel.
In a statement released at 12:13 a.m. Tuesday, Time Warner Cable said, "Hearst Television chose to black out their signals from our customers rather than continue negotiation."
In a statement posted at www.WXII12.com, the channel said, "Unfortunately, notwithstanding our best efforts to reach a new carriage agreement, we were unable to do so. As a result, unless there is a change in Time Warner's position, carriage of WXII will no longer be available to you on Time Warner systems.
"We cannot predict if or when discussions with Time Warner will resume or if or when WXII's programming will be restored on Time Warner systems."
Negotiations over retransmission consent are common and often come with the threat that a channel will no longer be carried by a given cable or satellite service. But they are generally resolved before viewers are affected. Recent examples in this market have included a December 2009 dispute between Time Warner Cable and News Corp. over Fox cable channels; a September 2010 dispute with Disney; and a January 2011 dispute with Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose stations include WXLV-Channel 45 and WMYV-Channel 48 in the Triad.
In a statement, Time Warner Cable said that Hearst was asking for a nearly 300 percent increase in retransmission fees, an amount Time Warner described as "unfair to our customers and unsustainable for our business."
Hank Price, president and general manager of WXII, said in a news release that "Time Warner's characterization of the percentage increase in carriage fees we are seeking is inaccurate. We have sought a reasonable increase consistent with the increased costs we have to pay for our highly valued programming and the carriage fees now paid to us by Time Warner's competitors."
The previous contract between the two companies expired at the end of June but was extended to July 9 as negotiations continued, to avoid possible service interruptions during the post-July Fourth weekend.
WXII ran occasional scrolling text in recent days warning customers about the possibility of disruption, but considering how often such matters get resolved at the last minute, many viewers didn't notice.
Virginia Holcomb, a Winston-Salem resident who described herself as "81 going on 35," said in a phone interview that she planned to give an earful to both sides in the dispute.
"I don't like no part of it," she said. "You can bet your bottom dollar they're going to hear from me about this."
Time Warner Cable represents less than 50 percent of WXII's viewership, according to Price. And because many of those viewers also have over-the-air TV sets (with antennas), he said it was hard to put a number on the outage.
WXII suggests that viewers who want to keep following its programs use an antenna or switch to a service such as DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse, or Dish Network. The station is streaming its newscast on its website, www.wxii12.com.
Pryzwansky suggested viewers turn to other channels for local news, such as News 14 Carolina and WGHP/FOX8.
Hearst owns 29 TV stations reaching 18 percent of U.S. television households, according to the company.
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