Editor’s note: This article was originally published May 25, 2013
It’s crunch time for Time Warner Cable and LIN Media, which operates three Austin TV stations.
An agreement that allows the area’s largest cable provider to air NBC affiliate KXAN, CW affiliate KNVA and MyNetworkTV affiliate KBVO expires May 31 and thus far, the two sides says they’ve been unable to reach an extension.
Austin isn’t the only city that could be affected. Deals between LIN Media and Time Warner Cable also expire at the end of the month in 13 other cities, including Birmingham, Ala; Buffalo, N.Y.; Indianapolis; and Norfolk, Va.
Without an agreement in place, Time Warner Cable can’t make the LIN stations part of its channel lineup.
Retransmission fees – cash that cable and satellite providers must pay in order to carry a station’s signal – are the sticking point, according to officials with both LIN Media and Time Warner Cable. The exact amounts of those fees are a closely guarded secret and aren’t typically released but, in previous disputes, broadcasters have said they’re asking for "pennies per day per subscriber."
This time around, Time Warner Cable says LIN Media is asking for a more than 50 percent increase in the payments it receives, which spokeswoman Melissa Sorola called "outrageous."
"We just want a fair agreement," Sorola said. "We know our customers value their programming, but we’ve got to fight back to keep prices as reasonable as possible."
LIN Media counters that its stations routinely draw higher ratings than many well-known cable networks here in Austin and elsewhere across the nation.
A message posted on KXAN’s website says, in part: "Ask yourself how many times you’ve watched AMC, Spike TV, CNBC, VH1, MTV, Animal Planet, E!, SyFy, C-SPAN, Country Music Television, Bravo or BET in the last month. The rates we are asking for are a fraction of what Time Warner Cable pays for many of those cable networks."
Sorola said the increase LIN Media is asking for is on top of one that the company received from Time Warner Cable in 2008. While the two sides worked to hammer out that agreement, KXAN was unavailable for almost a month.
"This is going to sound very familiar to Austin customers because we’ve been through this before," Sorola said.
Time Warner Cable has been telling subscribers that NBC programming is available free online or via its Primetime On Demand service, which is found on Channel 1005.
LIN Media, meanwhile, is running ads suggesting that viewers switch to an alternate provider.
"We are working hard to reach an agreement with Time Warner before our contract expires, however, we feel it is our duty to keep our viewers informed when a contract deadline approaches and a new agreement has not yet been reached," said Eric Lassberg, president and general manager of KXAN, KNVA and KBVO. "Our stations are important assets to the local community and we only want what is fair, so we can continue to serve our viewers."
Austin’s other TV stations have also done battle recently with cable and satellite providers, including dustups between KTBC and Suddenlink Communications and KEYE and DirecTV.