Local battles brew

MSOs, nets clash in retransmission faceoffs

The retransmission dance continues as the threat of cable multisystem operators yanking local station signals became very real on Jan. 1.

The most recent standoff is taking place in Hampton Roads, Va., where Lin Broadcasting’s Norfolk LMA station WVBT has been off the local Cox Communications system since New Year’s Day.

The debate there revolves around channel placement. Lin wants Cox to move the Fox affiliate, which is at Channel 43, down to a position between channels 2 and 13.

On its Web site, Lin said it believes Cox won’t move WVBT to a lower channel because its 10 p.m. newscast competes with a newscast on Cox’s partly owned cable news web LNC Channel 4.

Reasonable request

“Fox 43’s request is reasonable and in line with what other broadcasters have received,” declared WVBT on its Web site.

Cox, meanwhile, said moving WVBT from Channel 43 would be disruptive to viewers.

Lin’s battle with Cox is unrelated to the ongoing Fox vs. Cox battle being waged in Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Houston, Dallas and Austin, Texas (Daily Variety, Dec. 29).

As expected, the signals from Fox owned stations in those markets were pulled from Cox’s systems in Fairfax County, Va., Cleveland and suburbs of Houston, Dallas and Austin effective Jan. 1.

At issue is digital carriage of Fox’s Fox Sports World and FXM channels. Fox wants Cox to offer those two channels on digital tiers once the MSO unveils digital service in its markets; Cox calls the request “extortion.”

Cox said Fox has refused to extend a waiver to keep its stations on Cox systems, but Fox argues it has already extended agreements twice — once for six months and later for an additional two months.

Won’t trade

“Cox has told us they ascribe no value to local retransmission rights and are willing to trade nothing,” a Fox spokesman said. “They’ve disenfranchised 440,000 customers, many of whom have new alternatives (such as satellite TV).”

In a open letter to general manager Laureen Ong of Fox’s Washington outlet WTTG, Cox’s Gary McCollum said Fox’s interests are centered on an “unreasonable demand that every Cox Cable system across the nation carry two new Fox channels regardless of what the customers in those systems want.”

A Fox spokesman replied, “We do not feel this is an encumbrance on Cox Cable.”

Elsewhere, Time Warner Cable continues to negotiate with Hearst-Argyle and ABC to keep those broadcasters’ stations on its cable systems.

Hearst-Argyle and Time Warner agreed to a 20-day extension to keep 10 of the broadcaster’s stations on Time Warner systems around the country. Those stations include WISN Milwaukee and KITV Honolulu.

Tied to LifetimeHearst-Argyle hopes to tie retransmission consent to carriage of Lifetime spinoff channel Movies From Lifetime. Hearst-Argyle majority owner Hearst also owns part of Lifetime.

ABC, as earlier reported, is tying retransmission consent to pickup of its new SoapNet channel. Time Warner’s extension with ABC expires in mid-January.

Time Warner also confirmed it had sealed a new deal with WBNS Columbus, Ohio, to continue carrying the station on local systems. WBNS owner Dispatch Broadcast Group still hopes to land carriage of its Ohio News Network on Time Warner.

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