Cable One, NBCUniversal Rattle Sabers as Contract Deadline Approaches

What would the last days of December be without a cable carriage brawl? Phoenix-base Cable One and NBCUniversal are obliging with a war of words as the Dec. 31 expiration of their existing contract approaches.

NBCUniversal took to the airwaves earlier this week, launching crawls on USA Network, Syfy, Bravo, CNBC and other channels warning Cable One customers that they may face as blackout as of the new year.

Cable One is the nation’s 10th-largest operator, serving about 730,000 customers in 19 states, mostly in Arizona, Texas, Idaho and the Gulf Coast region. Although it’s a small player, the company has been in the spotlight in recent months after cutting ties entirely with Viacom cable nets in a similar carriage flap.

Cable One is part of Graham Holdings, the former parent company of the Washington Post and Newsweek. Graham has announced plans to spinoff Cable One as a standalone entity next year.

In a sign of the times, Cable One has made it clear to programmers that the company’s long-term focus is on broadband and bundled telco services as consumers embrace over-the-top options for programming. As evidenced by the decision to drop Viacom channels, Cable One is willing to forgo channels to avoid further price hikes. More than half of its new customers in recent years have been broadband-only subscribers, Cable One said.

As always, NBCU and Cable One are pointing fingers and accusing the other of seeking unreasonable terms for a new contract. Cable One has been part of the National Cable Telecommunications Cooperative, an umbrella org for a clutch of smaller operators serving rural areas. NBCU maintains that other NCTC members have accepted the deal terms that are on the table for Cable One.

“Cable One has declined all NBCUniversal offers stating they believe it deserves to receive our valuable programming at below market rates. At this point, based on Cable One’s unwillingness to productively negotiate, we have to start informing our viewers that they are at risk of losing access to our programming,” NBCUniversal said in a statement.

The channels at stake also include Oxygen, Sprout,  MSNBC, NBCSN, mun2 and well as Telemundo and NBC O&O stations in Cable One markets. E! and Golf Channel are not part of the negotiation as they are covered in a separate contract.

In a statement posted Thursday on its Facebook page, Cable One insisted it was still looking to cut a deal and was surprised at NBCU’s aggressive tactics.

“We are shocked and dismayed that NBC Universal has launched a negative ad campaign regarding our current negotiations. Despite the fact that NBC Universal is currently demanding a rate increase that is more than double our previous contract, we are continuing to negotiate in good faith and are optimistic that we will come to an agreement,” the statement said. “We are listening to feedback from our customers that they would like to keep these channels, and we will continue to negotiate on their behalf to resolve this agreement and avoid disruption to their channels.”

(Pictured: Bravo’s “Top Chef”)

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