The thing about working through a deal is that there has to be movement expressed by at least one side to be able to move forward. If both sides are standing firm, there’s nothing new to report.
Today is Day 30.
That’s how long current Time Warner Cable subscribers have been without Journal Broadcast Group stations. Here, it’s NBC affiliate WTMJ-TV Ch. 4.
When asked what the actual bottom line is, Time Warner Cable and Journal hasn’t shared that information – and that’s pretty typical in retransmission talks.
"We do want the issue to be resolved, but the deal has to be fair … this is not acceptable," said Michael Pedelty, a spokesperson for Time Warner Cable.
We know Time Warner Cable is reporting that the Journal Broadcast Group is asking for a 200 percent increase from what the current deal asks for. The math on this one, without the disclosure, is fuzzy at best and you can follow along with what I wrote about it earlier here.
"When they stand at 200 percent, there isn’t any way to go back and forth. If at the end of the day they are at a 200 percent increase, it is not reasonable," Pedelty said.
While the blocked out signal isn’t the longest one Time Warner Cable has had in retransmission talks, in our market, this isn’t typical.
"It is actually stunning that TWC not only continues to black out our stations, but doesn't even seem to have the same sense of urgency that we have, to get this resolved," said Steve Wexler, the executive vice president of Journal Broadcast Group and the GM of WTMJ-TV.
"The one item that still makes no sense to us is their outright rejection of our offer to remain on, with a short-term extension, while we negotiated.
"They told us there was ‘nothing in it for them.’ So now, here we are, 30 days later, with lines at their stores full of people returning cable boxes, when all of this was avoidable."
Time Warner Cable has started a program to give its subscribers options to get NBC and WTMJ programming during the retransmission stalemate, including providing a way to get simple indoor antennas in the hands of their customers. The cable provider sent an email to subscribers on how to get a coupon to pick up an antenna at Best Buy stores, and is offering Video On Demand coupons and other channels.
"This is not easy (taking a stand for the customer), but doing what’s right isn’t always easy," Pedelty said.
Cable consumers, which are close to 45 percent of the overall viewing audience in the Milwaukee market, are the ones caught in the middle of this debate. And they will be the ones who will ultimately foot the bill when this is all done.
"The fact remains that Journal is seeking fair compensation for our programming, as dictated by federal law, for the rights to re-sell it to their customers, the same as every other local station and other content providers," Wexler said.
"They keep repeating that we want a 200 percent increase, even though they know this isn't accurate. TWC doesn't want to pay a fair rate for our stations, but they aren't shy about charging whatever they can to their customers. Their claim that they all of a sudden are fighting to keep cable costs down is actually laughable. Since when?"
Time Warner Cable offered this in its email sent to customers yesterday:
"If we agreed to every outrageous demand made by every television network, cable TV bills would skyrocket. We know you think they’re high enough already. Every video provider is facing the same pressures from these rising costs and is at risk of blackouts, so switching is not a solution," the email read.
"We have to hold the line on TV prices. In fact, doing so has saved us — and you — hundreds of millions of dollars over the past few years."
Last week, Time Warner Cable moved the Game Show Network (GSN) into the channel slot once held by WTMJ.
"Then, just as we thought maybe we were making some progress, they put reruns of old game shows on our digital cable channel position and eliminated HD channel 1004 altogether. It's difficult to negotiate when the other party acts so deliberately to alienate our viewers," Wexler said.
"Then they have the absurdity to claim that we ‘abandoned’ the channels. That is ridiculous of course, and most people see right through this stunt."
Journal Communications, which owns the Journal Broadcast Group, has used its resources at WTMJ-AM 620, WLWK-FM 94.5 and the Journal-Sentinel in both print and online to share its perspective.
"They are talking loud and talking often," Pedelty said. "It's hard to take a stand for customers. It's too important just to give in."
It’s hard to say what will move one side or the other to work towards a deal, but there are some programming items coming down the pike, including the smaller October and larger November sweeps periods.
"We're at a point now where lots of people are using an antenna or changing to a different provider to see all the stations they expect to see. The NFL opener is on NBC on Sept. 5. And the Packers / Vikings first showdown is on NBC in October. I hope TWC understands what their blackout of our stations really means to their customers and our viewers. When they are ready to get serious about resolving this dispute, we'll be ready, as we have been since June," Wexler said.
"If TWC was really negotiating on behalf of their customers, as they keep claiming, they would roll up their sleeves with us and get to work resolving a dispute that was unnecessary from the beginning."
The dispute is over the bottom line.
"Broadcasters are using customers as a pawn. We have to get a deal that's good for our customers," Pedelty said.
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