Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Time Warner Cable reaches deal to keep KVUE on air

Officials say there will be no interruption in service.

Dale Roe

Representatives for Time Warner Cable and Belo Corp. resolved a dispute Friday that would have taken Austin's ABC affiliate off the air for the cable company's subscribers.

The contract that allows Time Warner Cable to carry 12 Belo stations around the country, including KVUE in Austin, would have expired at 11:59:59 p.m. today, according to Time Warner spokeswoman Melissa Sorola. If a new agreement had not been reached, the cable company would no longer have had the right to carry the Belo signals.

At issue was the rate Time Warner pays to retransmit those stations' signals: Belo wanted more money for the content, while Time Warner contended that higher broadcaster fees would mean higher cable bills for customers.

Details of the arrangement were not released Friday.

"We have come to an agreement in principle," KVUE General Manager Patti Smith said.

Though legal specifics were still being hammered out, "there will be no disruption in service," she said.

Both sides took to the Internet over the past few weeks to plead their cases.

"Our customers have been through these retransmission situations with us before, and we appreciate their patience," said Jon Gary

Herrera, regional vice president of communications for Time Warner Cable's Texas Region.

"We have noticed an increase in awareness and understanding of our position since we launched our RollOverOrGetTough.com website," he said.

The prospect of an agreement was signaled Friday afternoon when Belo affiliates' websites began removing pages that had taken Time Warner Cable to task. Those pages had listed alternative sources for its programming, including digital and old-fashioned analog antennas, and other providers, including AT&T U-Verse and DirecTV (Dish Network, also in carriage negotiations with Belo, was not mentioned).

Earlier this month, Time Warner reached agreement with ABC/Disney in a similar down-to-the-wire dispute over rights to carry ABC, Disney and ESPN signals.

Late last year, a carriage dispute between Time Warner and Fox drew the attention of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who threatened to ask the Federal Communications Commission to intervene and mandate continued carriage and arbitration. It didn't come to that — after marathon negotiations through New Year's Day, the sides reached an agreement.

Still, things don't always work out so well. A carriage dispute between Time Warner and LIN Media kept Austin NBC affiliate KXAN off the air for almost a month in 2008. During that time, the station's ratings dropped as much as 40 percent.

More recently, Hallmark and Hallmark Movie channels were dropped from U-Verse when Crown Media and television provider AT&T couldn't reach a carriage agreement.

Though AT&T refuses to comment on carriage disputes in which the company is not directly involved, Robert Mercer of DirecTV said his company was keeping an eye on the Time Warner-Belo situation, noting that customers typically wait to see whether an agreement is reached before switching providers.

Jason Kidd of Austin's Ambience Designs LLC, which installs home entertainment equipment, was aware of the dispute. He said he's seen an increase in interest about antennas, but he wasn't sure that it was due to repeated carriage negotiations.

"I've gotten more calls in the past month than I have in the past eight months," Kidd said.

droe@statesman.com; 912-5923