Wednesday, October 17, 2018
TV and Media

Bright House viewers lose WTOG, Showtime in CBS-Time Warner dispute

Tampa Bay area customers of Bright House Networks cable systems may be feeling caught in the middle, as a dispute between CBS and Time Warner Cable has resulted in the loss of local CW affiliate WTOG-Ch. 44 and premium channel Showtime.

Area Bright House customers lost access to the channels at about 5 p.m. Friday, as negotiations over retransmission fees broke down between CBS and Time Warner Cable, which handles programming deals for Bright House.

In addition to WTOG and Showtime, Bright House viewers lost access to CBS Primetime On Demand, Flix, the Movie Channel and Smithsonian; and all CBS-owned stations or cable channels. Customers of Bright House's high-speed cable also saw their access to free video content on eliminated.

The loss has been more pronounced for Time Warner subscribers in New York, Dallas and Los Angeles, where CBS owns the stations airing its network that have been dropped from systems there. In the Tampa Bay area, Gannett Broadcasting owns CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10, which remains on Bright House.

As the blackout has dragged on, both companies have moved their fight to the media space. CBS on Monday issued ratings data for its networks over the weekend claiming that the blackout's influence on their overall ratings "is expected to be minimal," though it affects 3.2 million customers in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth.

Later in the day, Time Warner CEO Glenn Britt gave media outlets a letter also sent to CBS president Les Moonves suggesting that the channels could be immediately returned to their systems a la carte — in which customers would pay an extra fee determined by CBS for access to its channels, the same way viewers pay for HBO or Showtime.

This would be a marked change for the cable provider, which argued along with other companies that economics require them to bundle the costs of most channels. It also puts CBS in a position of acting on public statements about the value of its content; if it thinks Time Warner should pay, say, $2 per subscriber, why shouldn't it charge customers the same fee directly?

Bright House spokesman Joe Durkin said the blackout came as CBS offered shorter extensions to its carriage agreements and Time Warner/Bright House suggested a yearlong extension. He also said customers will see a credit on their bills for the time when they couldn't access Showtime. (Because WTOG is part of a suite of basic and standard cable channels, reimbursement for its loss isn't likely.)

It's a tough time for CBS channels to vanish, as the network is presenting the successful summer series Under the Dome and golf tournaments featuring a resurgent Tiger Woods. By fall, the network will be offering professional football games. Showtime is also airing the final season of acclaimed crime drama Dexter.

Such fights are only expected to increase, as broadcasters seek to build the kind of revenue streams earned by cable channels, which already charge cable systems for retransmission rights in addition to on-air advertising.

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