Fans of television’s favorite yellow cartoon family “The Simpsons,” “Glee” and other popular Fox Network shows may not be too happy next year if an agreement is not reached between Time Warner Cable and Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. to continue airing the programs locally.
The current contract expires Dec. 31 and Sinclair is not optimistic at this point they’ll reach an agreement by then.
It all comes down to money: Sinclair wants more and Time Warner does not want to dig deeper into its wallet.
In what it is calling a “cooling-off period,” Fox has a separate agreement with Time Warner to allow it to pick up network shows during two hours of prime time (three on Sunday), but reruns of Fox shows such as “The Simpsons,” “House” and “Seinfeld,” as well Sunday NFL games, could be affected.
Sinclair owns local Fox affiliates in Rochester (WUHF), Buffalo (WMYO and WUTF) and Syracuse (WSYT and WNYS).
“We don’t want to insert ourselves into the negotiations between Time Warner and Sinclair,” Fox spokesman Scott Grogin said. “But, the agreement that we have with Time Warner that was signed last January allows us to provide network through the Sinclair stations’ signal or through our own feed.”
He said Fox has three main goals: Protect Fox viewers from service interruptions, allow affiliate partners like Sinclair to continue to generate local advertising dollars because their signal is still up, and to allow the parties to continue to negotiate a retransmission agreement without the pressure of a deadline.
“We just feel that the cooling-off feed that we are providing gives both sides significant incentives to come to an agreement,” Grogin said.
The agreement also includes national programming — shows run simultaneously nationwide — so regional football games could be blacked out too.
Matthew Tremblay, communications specialist for Time Warner Cable, said negotiations are ongoing, but Sinclair Executive Vice President and General Counsel Barry Faber is not optimistic. He said the two parties are “very far apart” and that an agreement by the end of the year is “very unlikely.”
Neither side would discuss price details, but Faber said the increase it is seeking from Time Warner amounts to “substantially less than a penny” per customer.
“Sinclair Broadcasting is asking for a huge increase in fees from Time Warner Cable and we think it’s unfair,” Tremblay said. “I cannot speak to how negotiations are going. Time Warner Cable chooses to deal with these negotiations in a boardroom. Sinclair has chosen to go public with it to try to put pressure on Time Warner Cable and that’s not fair to our customers. We feel they’re just using scare tactics with our customers.”
He said if an agreement is not reached by midnight on Dec. 31, it is up to Sinclair if it wants to black out its programming, but that Time Warner would still have the national and prime-time Fox programming.
Faber said Fox is one of the most popular channels cable companies offer, but that affiliates like Sinclair are not being paid as much for Fox as other networks such as Disney, TBS, TNT or ESPN.
He didn’t have exact figures, noting Time Warner won’t say, but that it has been publicly reported what the industry pays.
“We’re asking for an increase,” Faber said. “It seems to us that the way for that pricing to be determined should be based on how popular the programming is. Our programming is the most popular that they provide, but they pay substantially less.”
He said years ago, when cable television first started, the law was interpreted to mean that cable companies could carry broadcast stations for free, which cable companies built their business around.
Faber said that changed in 1992 when Congress said cable companies would need the consent of broadcasters. He said by then cable companies had become a giant monopoly, but now there is competition with phone companies and other service providers so broadcasting companies want a fair market price.
He said previously, if a cable company quit carrying a channel, customers could not threaten to stop the service and go elsewhere. Faber said most people watch the same 15 or so channels, but are paying for a lot more because cable companies bundle them together. He hopes that eventually customers pay only for the channels they actually watch.
“We value our viewers and we’re really sorry we’re not able to get a deal done with Time Warner and we’re able to get a deal done with everyone else,” Faber said.