TW Cable topper warns programmers on rising fees

Glenn Britt to Wall St. confab: Price hikes are not a 'birthright'

Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt once again sounded the alarm over rising channel costs, warning cable programmers that operators will drop services in the face of ballooning carriage fees.

He took particular aim at channels that are not tops in their niche and those that undergo top-to-bottom rebrands.

“This is not a birthright. This is not a (free) lunch. Because the consumer is telling us we can’t afford these prices anymore, where we have to, we are going to start cutting things off,” Britt told investors at the UBS Media conference in Gotham.

Cable operators have tended to address the issue more gently than DirecTV CEO Michael White or Dish chairman Charlie Ergen, who have been outspoken on cost increases and busily flipping the off switch in high-profile rate disputes. Not that TW Cable has shrunk from combat. It was forced by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reinstate Cablevision’s MSG Network after Gotham-area residents lost Knicks games in a rate dispute early this year.

“In this business, because we sell a package, we’ve tried to be very comprehensive. Over the years, we’ve accumulated networks that hardly anybody watches. Some are trying to reach the same audience as others who may do it better and be more successful,” Britt said. “But if you talk to the people who run these networks, they speak of it as a birthright. They say, ‘Maybe this year it wasn’t able to hit a big audience, but next year we’ll spend more on programming and work hard and it will be good.’ Sometimes they change the entire content of the network…We are going to have a different conversation than we had five or six or 10 years ago,” he said.

Asked about Google’s experiment with fiber-network TV in Kansas City, Britt said it was mostly about “publicity and bragging.”

“I doubt that means they are going to start building broadband all over the country. It took the cable industry four decades” to do that, he said.

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