CBS, backing off its previous stridently held position, confirmed Thursday it’s discussing the launch of a cable channel with top multisystem operators throughout the country.
In another development, Tele-Communications Inc. said it has cut 25 non-cash retransmission consent deals with broadcasters throughout the U.S. The stations are located mostly in small- and medium-sized markets, but NBC affils KRON-TV in San Francisco and WOWT-TV in Omaha, and ABC affil KOAT-TV, Albuquerque, N.M., are included. San Francisco is the fifth-largest TV market in the country.
CBS refused to divulge the type of program service in the works, but industry sources said the cablechannel’s format involves a news/public affairs channel that may make generous use of CBS News archival material.
“I’m calling it CBS-Span,” quipped the head of one CBS-affiliated station.
The announcement reflected the Eye web’s increasingly lonely battle for straight cash payments from cable operators via the retransmission consent provision of the 1992 Cable Act. CBS now joins the crowded field of ABC, NBC and Fox Broadcasting Co. in developing plans for cable-only channels.
It’s also possible the channel will carry news feeds from CBS affiliates throughout the U.S. CBS intends to provide local ad avails for affiliates to share in the channel’s revenue. The network also wants to ensure that affiliates will be involved in a meaningful way, according to one industry source.
Cable operators that carry the second CBS channel would get free rein to continue carrying CBS owned-and-operated stations. Comcast Corp., the fourth-largest MSO in the U.S., with 2.56 million subscribers, has tentatively agreed to carry the channel at a price in the neighborhood of 12 cents per subscriber per month, according to an industry source. The Philadelphia-based firm declined comment, but it’s believed Comcast’s rollout is contingent on CBS striking carriage agreements with TCI and Time Warner, the country’s top two cable MSOs.
CBS senior veepee Jay Kriegel reportedly met with TW and TCI this week to discuss the new venture. “Obviously, this deal doesn’t get done with only Comcast on board,” said one industry source.
A TCI spokeswoman confirmed the company has met with CBS toppers on several occasions. However, she declined to discuss specifics of the negotiations. Industry insiders said it’s doubtful the CBS cable channel will have a format similar to Cable News Network, in part because TCI and Time Warner each own a stake in CNN parent Turner Broadcasting System and will use their respective clout to insist the two channels don’t compete.
Ben Tucker, prez of Fresno-based Retlaw Broadcasting, which owns CBS affiliates, said a lot of people don’t see the value in a second channel. Tucker said the costs of producing and sending local programming to the cable head end might not be worth the trouble. Nevertheless, Tucker said the idea is worth exploring.
Gary Chapman, head of LIN Television Corp., whose seven stations include CBS affiliates in Indianapolis and Ft. Wayne, Ind., said, “The proposed CBS cable channel doesn’t change anything in regards to our position of demanding direct cash payments from cablers by the FCC’s Oct. 6 deadline for completion of retrans negotiations.
“We are preparing and making plans to come off cable. It’s just that simple,” he continued. Without cash, on Oct. 7, there will be no World Series for cable customers in Indianapolis.
24-hour Bay Area news channel
Chronicle Broadcasting announced that KRON had struck an agreement with TCI and Western Communications that would have KRON create a local 24-hour news channel in the Bay Area. That will apparently afford the station free second-channel space in exchange for assured carriage of its signal, a popular way of end-running direct retrans payments.
TCI, the nation’s largest cable system operator, said it also has interim agreements pending ongoing negotiations with another 25 broadcasters that ensures the stations will not be dropped on Oct. 6, the FCC deadline for completion of retrans negotiations.
In addition, TCI chief operating officer Brendan Clouston said his company has more than 100 non-cash deals pending.
Retransmission consent is a provision added to the 1992 Cable Act that permits broadcasters to wheedle cash out of cable operators for carriage of broadcast signals.