Hearst dispute with Bright House pulls WMOR-Ch. 32 and digital THIS TV off Tampa Bay cable system
Bright House Networks customers in the Tampa Bay area will have to look elsewhere for their daily fix of Jerry Springer, Cheaters or Family Guy reruns, as a dispute has led owners Hearst Corp. to pull its channels -- including Tampa's WMOR-Ch. 32, the digital Spanish-language channel Estrella and the digital movie channel This TV -- off the cable television system.
In Tampa, that means WMOR and This TV have been replaced by HBO Family programming; Estrella is replaced by Bright House's Spanish-language regional news network, InfoMas. (for some reason, I can still see This TV in my office, where the cable line is plugged directly into an HD TV set)
(UPDATE: a statement by Viacom says DirecTV moved Tuesday night to drop 26 of its channels from the satellite TV service, including BET, Nickelodeon, CMT and Vh1, in a similar dispute. The move came at 11:50 p.m., nine minutes before their retransmission agreement would have expired, affecting nearly 20 million customers.)
"It's not a pleasant thing for our viewers to go through," said Ken Lucas, president and general manager at WMOR, who estimates he spoke to or emailed dozens of viewers today. "But I don't think it will hurt us long term."
In Orlando, Bright House has substituted NBC affiliate WESH-TV with another NBC station, WBRE-TV in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
The channels were yanked at 11:59 p.m. Monday, after an extension expired over the July 4 holiday.
Bright House explains in a section of its website devoted to the dispute that only certain channels can be aired outside their core markets, so they imported the Pennsylvania channel to ensure its Orlando customers could see the network's Olympics coverage, should the impasse last that long.
Because the outage in Tampa Bay mostly affects WMOR -- a station with little local programming which airs syndicated shows such as Jerry Springer and reruns of network TV hits such as Big Bang Theory and Law & Order: SVU -- the impact may be less severe.
But on Monday, WMOR triumphantly announced it had purchased rights to an October Tampa Bay Buccaneers game airing elsewhere on the NFL Network. Since the NFL Network isn't on Bright House, WMOR won the bidding to air the away game, against the Minnesota Vikings, in the Tampa Bay market.
Such carriage disputes are becoming more common place as station owners seek more compensation from cable systems for the right to carry their channels. Besides the DirecTV customers who lost access to Viacom channels, DISH network customers have seen AMC, IFC and WE tv pulled from that service in a similar disagreement.
The current conflict involves Hearst and Time Warner Cable, which negotiates content and carriage agreements for Bright House. So the outage also affects 2-million TWC subscribers nationwide.
As also has become standard, each side in this dispute has created its own website to advocate its position. WMOR's site notes that "The WMOR carriage agreement with Bright House expired at 11:59 pm on July 9...unless there is a change in Bright House's position, carriage of WMOR/Estrella/thisTV will no longer be available to you on Bright House systems...In light of this impasse, we urge viewers to make alternative arrangements for reception of our signal. Our signal remains available over the air for free and also on other cable systems, DIRECTV and DISH Network."
Bright House's site urges viewers to see Jerry Springer on Hulu.com and the Spanish-language Estrella channel online at estrellatv.com. TWC's site notes that Hearst wanted a 300 percent increase in fees; not knowing what the actual figures are, its hard to judge if that's out of line.