Yep, this is a story about nothing.
As a journalist – and a reader – I hate headlines and stories that don’t deliver anything new. However, as it is an issue that affects almost half of the TV viewers in the market, I’m compelled to offer an update.
Another week has come and gone, and there isn’t any change in the status in the Journal Broadcast Group talks with Time Warner Cable.
Earlier this week, Andre Fernandez, the president and CFO of Journal Communications, sent a message to all Journal employees.
Journal Communications is the parent company of the Journal Broadcast Group, and it also owns the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The newspaper ran the letter in its entirety on its website JSOnline.com.
"In our view, Time Warner’s actions underscore a blatant disregard for the interests of their customers. We are extremely disappointed that Time Warner is unwilling to engage in productive negotiations," Fernandez wrote.
This is day 37 of the blockout. In separate releases, both sides in this retransmission debate have accused the other of distorting the facts, used different language to describe the negotiated fee per subscriber being sought and has made claims that the other is losing customers.
It has been reported that the FCC has been asked to intervene in Time Warner Cable’s similar dispute with CBS, which has led to the blockout of CBS-owned local broadcast stations in a number of markets. The sides failing to come to agreement has meant that local subscribers who have sought Showtime and its family of channels has had to watch something else.
It will be interesting to see if the federal or state government will step in in the Journal Broadcast Group blockout, as well.
"We have asked the Attorney General in the State of Wisconsin to review the impact of Time Warner's actions on consumers who pay for access to our stations. We await the Attorney General’s decision," Fernandez wrote as one of his key points in the memo to employees.
He also shared a few other points:
"On June 28, Journal offered an extension to July 31. Time Warner rejected it without discussion and took our stations down on July 25.
"This move is unprecedented – no other Journal Broadcast Group station has ever been removed from a system. In fact, over the past six years, we successfully have negotiated more than 140 contracts with cable and other video distribution systems without ever being taken down.
"As we stand today, Time Warner has replaced our local news and community outreach programs, the NBC prime time schedule and other network programming with the Game Show Network, a channel that, in July 2013, had less than 15 percent of the audience of TODAY’S TMJ4, our Milwaukee station. Nor does the Game Show Network offer public service alerts, weather or local news, which are critical community services of our stations."
Now to be fair, I should mention that most NBC prime-time programs can be seen through Time Warner Cable’s on demand channels and through NBC’s website. Time Warner Cable also is able to run weather and public service alerts (like Amber alerts) that can be triggered on a local level.
Both Time Warner Cable and Journal Broadcast Group run local commercials. Tracking the ratings, we are able to see the drop in households viewing Journal’s program offerings, and in turn the ads. What’s harder to track is the number of Time Warner Cable subscribers who have sought out some other service. In an advertising-driven business model, it will be interesting to see when one or the other (or both) reach a proverbial tipping point providing motivation to ink a deal.
Maybe next week we will have more to report than the exchange of talking points. Then again, maybe not.
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