Tele-Communications Inc., the nation’s largest cable system operator, said Thursday that more than half the television stations on its systems have decided against seeking retransmission fees.
Instead, many are proposing alternatives to keep their signals on cable. Five stations plan to work with TCI to develop regional cable channels, said Bob Thomson, a TCI spokesman.
“We are pleasantly surprised that there are so many that are choosing must-carry,” Thomson said. “The majority of the broadcasters are as anxious as we are to avoid potential conflicts in the fall.”
Until now, cable firms have picked up broadcast signals for free to retransmit on cable, but a new federal law gives television stations the right to seek payment from cable operators. Without an agreement, a station can be dropped by a cable system as of Oct. 6.
Stations also may demand cable systems carry them free of charge under the must-carry rule.
The TV networks contend cable operators should pay to broadcast their programming, similar to fees charged by some cable networks.
But the Englewood, Colo.-based TCI, with more than 10 million subscribers nationwide, has refused to pay, contending subscribers should not have to pay for signals available free to non-cable viewers.
The stations were required to inform cable operators of their intent by Thursday. TCI will not know until next week how many stations plan to seek payment, Thomson said. “We know from the early returns that well over half of the broadcast stations that are carried on cable systems will opt for must-carry , asserting legal rights under the law to be carried for nothing.”
In Denver, four of the five stations have indicated they will seek retransmission payments. “At this point, everybody is posturing,” said Joe Franzgrote, KUSA-TV president. “This is the first time we’ve been in a position to receive some value for what we spend millions to produce.”
TCI has negotiated retransmission agreements with 14 stations that do not call for payment. Thomson declined to provide specifics, but said in general the stations gave TCI permission to carry their signals on common channels without charge.
Five stations agreed to develop a cable channel modeled after one planned jointly by TCI and Fox Inc. They are: WPXI, Pittsburgh; KDFW, Dallas; KTVI, St. Louis; WVTM, Birmingham, Ala.; and KTBC, Austin, Texas.
WPXI general manager John Howell said the agreement ended a five-year negotiation with TCI. He declined comment on specific costs.
“We believed then and believe now, one of the more valuable cable channels to be built in this area will be local, regional newstalk and information,” he said.
Thomson said TCI executives are reviewing other proposals, such as combining advertising sales operations with a particular broadcaster.
“If they can come to us with something that adds value to our cable customers , then we’re willing to talk,” he said.
Other stations that have signed agreements are: KTVX, Salt Lake City; KMOL, San Antonio; KBHK, San Francisco; KCOP, Los Angeles; KMSP, Minneapolis; KUTP, Phoenix; WWOR, New York; KPTV, Portland; and WPWR, Chicago.