Cable and satellite TV subscribers in the Triangle could have fewer viewing options come Jan. 1 if three local TV stations fail to resolve contract disputes with national carriers.
WRAL’s parent company, Capitol Broadcasting Co., which also owns the local Fox affiliate WRAZ, is in the middle of much publicized contract negotiations with DirecTV. Meanwhile, the Media General-owned NBC-17 is fighting with Time Warner Cable.
In both cases, the local stations have been warning viewers who use those carriers that if an agreement is not reached by Dec. 31, they could lose access to programming Jan. 1.
Both disputes have also prompted the stations to air commercials explaining their perspectives to viewers. Capitol Broadcasting has aired at least three different commercials since before Thanksgiving, the most recent one offering free HD antennas to DirecTV subscribers who want to watch WRAL, the local CBS affiliate, and WRAZ after the contract deadline.
DirecTV negotiated a new deal with CBS earlier this fall, but that only applied to CBS-owned and operated stations, Showtime, CBS Sports Network and the Smithsonian Channel.
On the keepWRALon.com website, the company explains that it is asking for “the cost of a cup of coffee per month per subscriber” from DirecTV.
A spokesman for DirecTV would not comment on specifics of the negotiation, but sounded optimistic: “Our customers who watch Capitol’s local TV stations can be assured DirecTV will not remove any Capitol Broadcasting stations at the end of the year.”
The situation doesn’t sound as hopeful for NBC-17 and Time Warner Cable.
In a news release late last week, NBC-17, also known as WNCN, said: “It appears unlikely that a new agreement will be reached.”
“Our television station is an important asset to our local community,” WNCN general manager Doug Hamilton said in the release. “And it is unfortunate that Time Warner Cable does not recognize our fair market value.”
The NBC-17 website, dontdropnbc17.com, extensively explains the negotiating process and repeatedly mentions the desire for a “fair market price” for content.
Keith Poston, director of communications for Time Warner Cable for eastern North Carolina, said the company continues to negotiate with Media General, but that Time Warner Cable doesn’t consider its demands fair.
“Unfortunately, Media General’s demand for a price increase of 200 percent is unacceptable,” Poston said. “Particularly when it results in no additional programming value to our customers. We’re tired of these kinds of public disputes. And we know our customers are as well, particularly at this time of year.”
Such contract negotiations are common, and often only come to the public’s attention when things turn ugly or when negotiations reach an impasse. And things don’t always work out right away.
In July, a DirecTV battle with media company Viacom turned ugly and 17 Viacom channels (which include Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon) went dark for DirecTV customers for 10 days.
A similar dispute this fall kept AMC off the Dish Network for nearly four months, causing Dish subscribers to miss the season premiere of AMC’s most popular show, “The Walking Dead.”
A DirecTV representative said blackouts or threats of blackouts are running at a record pace for 2012. So far this year, according to DirecTV, 84 stations stopped transmitting on cable, satellite or telco distributors. That’s compared with 51 in 2011 and 12 in 2010.