By Steve Kabelowsky Contributing Columnist Published Sep 06, 2013 at 3:07 PM

The news hook is that a face-to-face meeting took place.

Late Thursday night I reported that representatives from Journal Broadcasting Group, the arm of Journal Communications that runs WTMJ-TV Ch. 4 in Milwaukee and other stations in other markets, sat down with staffers from Time-Warner Cable.

There are plenty of different angles and details that media outlets have reported on. And there have been slants and spins in that coverage depending on one’s perspective. However, let us not bury the lead among all the smoke and mirrors – they took the time to talk.

"We are encouraged that, for the first time, we had opportunity to meet directly with Journal leadership to try and resolve this issue," said Michael Pedelty, a spokesperson for Time Warner Cable.

"We are hopeful that we can come to an understanding soon, but any deal has to be in the customers’ best interest."

More than 40 days have passed since area Time Warner Cable subscribers have been able to watch WTMJ without using other means. At issue is a contract allowing the cable provider to retransmit the signal. The last contract expired in June, was extended in July and then done as of July 24.

"We hope these recent efforts will lead us to a fair agreement very soon, before more programming is jeopardized," said Steve Wexler, vice president of Journal Broadcast Group and GM of WTMJ.

According to Wexler and Pedelty, both sides came to the table with offers, and they exchanged ideas. That, in itself is encouraging.

What has arisen as the latest issue is the channel location. After running a message about the block out for some time, Time Warner Cable moved the Game Show Network (GSN) into the Channel 4 spot on the electronic guide.

"Time Warner continues to tell us they have sold our Channel 4 position and that it is now unavailable, which is not acceptable to us for reasons that should be obvious to everyone," Wexler said.

For me, and this is just my opinion, this part of the talks is pretty interesting.

If you have friends or family members who live "up north" in the Green Bay TV market, the Journal-owned WGBA-TV Ch. 26 is currently blocked as well. Part of Journal Broadcast Group’s contract with Time Warner affects stations in Nebraska and California, as well.

On the electronic guide, for years, WGBA in Green Bay didn’t reside on Ch. 26 on Time Warner’s lineup. It was on Ch. 7. It wasn’t the only channel out of order in Green Bay either. For example, WFRV-TV Ch. 5 in Green Bay, the CBS affiliate in the market, is on Ch. 6 on Time Warner.

I get why Journal wants to have the position back, I just don’t understand if that’s the only stumbling block, why a deal can’t be reached soon.

For Time Warner, I can understand the value of the channel positioning. On the digital tier, many of the similar stations are repeated and grouped together at the higher numbers. At the lower numbers, where the local stations are traditionally located, I can see why a cable outlet would love to be among them.

As part of its offer, Journal Broadcast Group is seeking a return for all of its affected channels to be returned to its original positions. From their perspective, I can understand the reasoning seeking it.

In the big picture of these talks, as by federal mandate, there are two options for local broadcast stations when dealing with cable and other providers – retransmission consent through negotiations or request what’s called "must carry."

If Journal Broadcast would have asked for must carry, then Time-Warner would have to carry the station. In that option, there would be no deals made and no money would be paid to WTMJ. But once the broadcaster elects to strike a deal seeking compensation for programming, it allows everything to be on the table.

In the meantime, both sides are offering different talking points to viewers. This past week, Time Warner sent letters to customers offering a free movie on demand. Both sides have talked about how viewers can get the free over-the-air broadcast of WTMJ through the use of an antenna, and digital converter if needed with an older TV set. NBC programming is available online as well as on primetime on demand for a number of shows.

And, there’s always the option of seeking another service.

Steve Kabelowsky Contributing Columnist

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