Triangle spared the worst of the fallout from Time Warner - CBS fight

jmurawski@newsobserver.comAugust 5, 2013 

The Triangle has been largely untouched – but not totally unscathed – by the nasty fee dispute between Time Warner Cable and CBS that has left millions of Time Warner customers unable to watch “Under the Dome,” “The Big Bang Theory” and other popular TV shows.

The faceoff has blacked out 29 television markets where CBS owns and operates local TV stations, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Atlanta. In those areas, the contract under which Time Warner runs CBS programming expired last month and negotiations broke down Friday, prompting CBS to yank the shows from Time Warner customers.

In the Triangle, the local CBS affiliate is owned by Capitol Broadcasting, which owns WRAL-TV. Capitol Broadcasting signed a separate, multiyear contract with CBS just last month, said WRAL vice president and general manager Steven Hammel.

“We have a completely separate contract,” Hammel said. “The dispute is between the stations that are owned by CBS, not to be confused with the stations that are affiliated with CBS.”

However, CBS has taken the extra step of blocking Time Warner’s Internet customers from watching CBS shows online, a move that has infuriated Time Warner officials.

The Internet blackout affects all Time Warner customers – including nearly half a million customers in the Triangle, where TV service has not been disrupted.

“It is surely beyond the pale for you to subject these Internet customers to blocking of content that is made available for free to all others,” Time Warner CEO Glenn Britt wrote to CBS CEO Leslie Moonves on Monday. “This conduct is abhorrent in that CBS is using this blocking to punish TWC’s Internet customers across the country, including millions of consumers in cities where we continue to carry CBS on our cable systems.”

CBS also has blocked access to Time Warner customers in the Triangle and nationally to some programs that are part of a national contract. That has cut off Showtime, CBS Primetime on Demand and other features locally and nationally.

Primetime on Demand functions like a digital recorder and allows viewers to watch shows they missed.

Time Warner has 2.1 million customers in the Carolinas, including more than 460,000 in the Triangle.

Time Warner has encouraged affected customers to bypass the CBS action by subscribing to Aereo, a New York startup that picks up over-the-air broadcast signals and then streams them online. Aereo, which costs $8 a month, is not available here but lists the Triangle as one of the regions it plans to expand into this year.

Some analysts are predicting the blackout could last up to six weeks, until the beginning of the NFL pro football season, at which point both sides are expected to settle rather than face the wrath of spurned football fans.

The kerfuffle between the two media giants has to do with retransmission fees that cable and satellite companies pay for putting broadcast programs on cable systems. CBS wants to charge Time Warner higher fees for running CBS programs, and the cable company is balking at the broadcaster’s demand.

The contract expired July 24, but CBS programming was extended to July 29 and again to Aug. 2 as the parties negotiated.

At 5 p.m. on Friday, CBS pulled the plug on its programming and blamed Time Warner for being stubborn. Time Warner retaliated by accusing CBS of using the public as a pawn as part of a corporate strategy.

“CBS enjoys the privilege of using public-owned airwaves to deliver their programming,” Time Warner’s Raleigh office said in a statement. “They should not be allowed to abuse that privilege.”

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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