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Tribune stations go dark on Cablevision

Retrans fight leads to blackout of WPIX New York, other outlets

Just as one retrans battle came to a peaceful conclusion, another flared up as Tribune Broadcasting’s WPIX-TV New York and several other stations went dark on Cablevision’s lineup just after midnight Thursday.

Cablevision issued a pointed statement accusing Tribune of demanding high retransmission consent fees for its stations because its parent company is still working its way out of bankruptcy.

“The bankrupt Tribune Company and the hedge funds and banks that own it, including Oaktree Capital Management, Angelo Gordon & Co. and others are trying to solve Tribune’s financial problems on the backs of Cablevision customers,” Cablevision said. “Tribune and their hedge fund owners are demanding tens of millions in new fees for WPIX and other stations they own. They should stop their anti-consumer demands and work productively to reach an agreement.”

Tribune said Cablevision shuttering of the stations came without any warning, even after Tribune had offered to extend the previous agreement while negotiations continued.

“Tribune was willing to provide Cablevision subscribers access to the valuable programming on these stations while working toward a new agreement,” Tribune said in a statement. “Tribune never made any threat to withdraw these stations or any demand that Cablevision remove them.”

Stations affected are those carried in Cablevision’s New York-New Jersey-Connecticut service area: CW affil WCCT Hartford (Conn.), CW affil KWGN Denver (carried in some of Cablevision’s Optimum West markets) and MyNetwork affil WPHL Philadelphia, carried in a small portion of Cablevision’s New Jersey service area.

Cablevision may hear from New York Mets fans as a result of the WPIX blackout. The station is the local TV home of the team, and is skedded to telecast two away games on Saturday and Sunday.

Tribune added that its offer to Cablevision amounts to “less than a penny a day per subscriber,” which is less than the cable operator pays for many channels with lower ratings. The current negotiations mark the first time that Cablevision has bargained with Tribune for cash compensation for its local stations.

The market environment for retrans deals has changed dramatically in the past three years, as broadcasters in need of new revenue streams began demanding cash fees similar to the carriage coin that multichannel video providers pay to other channels. Cablevision has about 3.3 million subscribers.

The Cablevision-Tribune blackout came just 24 hours after satcaster Dish Network and Sinclair Broadcast Group came to terms, after much saber-rattling, on a deal that went down to the wire and threatened to blackout 70 Sinclair stations in 45 markets, including St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Tribune’s station group endured a four-day blackout on a broader scale in late March-early April when it engaged in a similar retrans wrangle with satcaster DirecTV, which carries all of Tribune’s 23 local stations.

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