NBC, TW: we’re talking channel

NBC and Time Warner Cable have closed a deal that will guarantee the launch of a still-in-development NBC cable network called America’s Talking.

In exchange, Time Warner’s cable systems will get permission to carry the signals of NBC’s owned TV stations without paying a “retransmission-consent” fee.

In a separate deal, Tribune Broadcasting confirmed the essential facts of a previous report that it would join with three cable operators — Continental, Scripps Howard and Landmark — to become partners in the new Television Food Network, which focuses on cooking, nutrition and fitness and kicks off with a two-hour preview Aug. 30 before going out as a full 24-hours-a-day service on Nov. 23 (Daily Variety, Aug. 10).

Tribune says it will use the Food Network as part of its negotiations with cable operators to carry the signals of the seven independent TV stations owned by the Tribune company.

And ABC, which has wrapped up a number of retransmission-consent deals with cable operators over the past few weeks, signed up six more on Tuesday: Adelphia , Colony, Falcon, Simmons, Sutton Capital and Western Communications.

These operators have agreed to purchase the rights in their markets to ABC’s spinoff all-sports cable network ESPN2, which starts up later this year, and ABC’s owned TV stations will allow carriage of their signals without any extra payment.

With Fox Broadcasting Co. continuing to sign cable operators for a new cable network it’s planning fornext year, CBS is the only network that hasn’t announced a new cable channel to give at least the illusion that operators are paying to retransmit the network’s owned-TV-station signals.

Although the Cable Act of 1992 says TV stations can try to get cash from cable operators for their signals, most operators have said they won’t pay retransmission fees under any circumstances.

Cable operators say CBS is still holding out for cash, but the pressure is building to the point where it may have to cave in and create a service, thus joining its broadcast brethren in making sure that cable subscribers won’t be deprived of the network’s programs in early October, when these deals have to be concluded.

NBC is the latest network to work around operator objections by getting MSOs to pony up for a cable service that could be potentially valuable to their subscribers down the road. As NBC describes it, America’s Talking will “feature talk and information programming about news events and other topical issues.”

One source with knowledge of the deal says NBC will use the facilities of its CNBC business/talk cable network in Fort Lee, N.J., as well as the Charlotte, N.C., headquarters where NBC feeds dozens of news stories each day to its affiliates.

Neither NBC nor Time Warner would disclose the terms of the deal, except to say it will run for seven years, will slot the new network on the standard-basic tier (with all of the mass-circulation networks) and will include renewals and new system pickups of CNBC.

Unlike ABC’s cable deals for ESPN2, NBC is encouraging its affiliates to use America’s Talking to negotiate their own local retrans agreements. The affiliates would share with NBC any license fees they pulled out of cable systems for America’s Talking. In turn, NBC will carve out chunks of time in the new network for affiliates to run local news or other local shows.

For the TV Food Network, sources say Tribune may not try to alter the terms of the original offering to cable operators by the MSO Colony Communications. The key provision is that the Food Network is free during the first 10 years for operators that put it on standard basic.

Those terms are already beginning to drive circulation — Colony says four other MSOs have signed up: Adelphia, Cablevision Industries, C-Tec and Times Mirror.

So any subscriber fees Tribune could collect would be small change compared to the big advertising revenues generated by wide clearance, which would make Tribune’s equity position a valuable asset.

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