The truth of the matter is that a broadcast company, like Milwaukee-based Journal Communications, has dozens of agreements with satellite, cable and phone providers for retransmission rights.
The key term is "reasonable."
That is what both sides want to have on the table to get a deal done. When it doesn’t happen, we see continued talk in public, a raise of the stakes before a blackout.
Hundreds of deals a year are done across the U.S., and before reasonable offers are made, it is the viewers that suffer the consequences. And, more often than not, the local management can’t do anything about it but wait.
I’ve been there, as a staffer at a local TV station, waiting to hear from legal counsel on how negotiations were going. It becomes added stress in an industry filled with constant deadlines.
For now locally, WTMJ-TV Ch. 4 and Time Warner Cable are not at the "reasonable" part of the retransmission talks.
"TODAY'S TMJ4 has made good faith efforts to negotiate with Time Warner during our extension period. Unfortunately, Time Warner has decided to take down our digital channels (the 24-hour Storm Team 4 weather channel and the Live Well Network channel)," WTMJ General Manager Steve Wexler reported.
"This programming will continue to be delivered free over the air on digital channels 4.2 and 4.3."
Yep, in this round of talks, the sub-channels are already off the air. If the two sides don’t agree by July 24, the main feed of the NBC affiliate will be off the cable system too.
"When Journal Broadcast Group offers to license the rights to carry our signals to cable companies like Time Warner, the agreements are typically negotiated without interruptions in service. We have successfully negotiated more than 140 contracts in the past six years. We have chosen to remain on the air during the July ratings period which ends at midnight July 24," Wexler said.
"Unfortunately, so far Time Warner has refused place a fair, market-based value on the rights to carry our stations. Reaching that agreement remains important for us, but not to the point of risking long term harm to our stations or businesses."
By law, a local broadcast outlet has to deal with delivery providers for those in the market that get TV signals by other ways than a roof-top antenna.
"It is unfortunate that Journal has decided to pull their programming from our customers’ line ups. Journal is demanding more than a 200 percent increase over previous compensation," said Mike Hogan, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable.
"We continue to take a stand against unreasonable fee increases by local broadcast TV stations. We are pushing back against these broadcasters, such as Journal, that demand massive price increases without delivering more value."
It is hard to say what the true bottom line is for a broadcast company that is negotiating multiple stations in different markets at the same time. For the perspective of the viewer – and in this case a cable provider – it literally becomes pennies per household per month. But, when multiplied over thousands of households, those pennies add up.
They add up quickly, really, to fill a station’s bottom line. Playing easy math, we’ll say that Journal wants a penny more a month per subscriber. So for 50,000 households, that is an additional $500 a month. Or, $6,000 a year. I’m guessing the actual numbers are more than a penny and more than 50,000 households.
For the perspective of the broadcaster, the viewer is already being charged for the programming. By that logic, it makes sense to be compensated to help defer the cost of broadcasting.
For the perspective of the outlet, they know that the content is free over-the-air. The way they see it, is they provide a retransmission for the convenience of the broadcaster and the viewer.
If the two don’t come to a reasonable agreement soon, it will be the Time Warner Cable viewers who will have to make the most reasonable decision – deciding if they want to take the steps necessary to get WTMJ another way, or just live without it.
Media is bombarding us everywhere.
Instead of sheltering his brain from the onslaught, Steve embraces the news stories, entertainment, billboards, blogs, talk shows and everything in between.
The former writer, editor and producer in TV, radio, Web and newspapers, will be talking about what media does in our community and how it shapes who we are and what we do.