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Time Warner Cable to provide free antennas; CBS announces new deal with Verizon FIOS (PDF)

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The blackout of CBS-owned channels on  Time Warner Cable is about to turn three weeks old, as the cable provider makes adjustments to placate disgruntled subscribers, and the broadcast network trumpets a new deal with a Time Warner Cable competitor.

CBS started the day with the announcement that it reached a three-year agreement for “continued retransmission” with Verizon for its FiOS systems nationwide.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

In Thursday's statement announcing the deal, Ray Hopkins, CBS President of Television Networks Distribution said the agreement “was reached in a short period of time, and CBS has once again achieved fair value for our over-the-air rights.”

In a memo to CBS employees,  Chief Executive Leslie Moonves was more direct.

“You should know that Time Warner Cable has been offered almost exactly the same deal for CBS carriage to which Verizon has agreed,”  Moonves wrote.   His next words suggest the two sides remain far from resolving their dispute.

 I cannot describe to you the frustration I feel at the way these negotiations have gone. Never in my most pessimistic moments did I ever think that they would have lasted this long and have been so difficult. In many aspects of the deal, Time Warner Cable is demanding different terms than any other company in the business. I am frankly mystified by what appears to be a lack of urgency to resolve this matter for their customers. 

The two companies are fighting over the “retransmission consent,” fees Time Warner Cable must pay to carry CBS-owned channels and Showtime in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas. CBS wants to raise those fees. Time Warner Cable says CBS is trying to raise them too high. 

'We have to hold the line'

For now, the cable provider isn't budging.  In an advertisement in the Los Angeles Times Thursday,  CEO Glenn Britt tells customers the company is trying to balance its desire to get the channels back on and hold down the “rising cost of TV.”

If we agreed to every outrageous demand made by every television network, cable TV bills would skyrocket. We know you think they’re high enough already. Every video provider is facing the same pressures from these rising costs and is at risk of blackouts, so switching is not a solution. We have to hold the line on TV prices. In fact, doing so has saved us — and you — hundreds of millions of dollars over the past few years.

Britt adds a few offerings to subscribers to keep them happy and help them cope with the blackout. They include:

  • A free preview of the Starz Kids and Family premium channel.
  • Making the Tennis Channel available for all subscribers at no charge during the U.S. Open, which begins Monday, Aug. 26.
  • Starting Friday, the company is making antennas available for subscribers who want to watch CBS shows over the air.

A spokesman for Time Warner Cable says a limited supply of basic indoor antennas will be available at TWC service stores starting on Friday, and that the company has made arrangements with Best Buy stores in its service areas to offer a $20 voucher good for a purchase of any antenna in stock.

The spokesman said that, before heading to an office to pick up an antenna, subscribers should:

Check the FCC's website to make sure the signals can be received at their homes

— Confirm that their TV sets are capable of supporting an additional input source, either via connectors on the back or an A/B switch (available for purchase at any local electronics store)

— Confirm that their TV sets have a digital tuner, or that they have a retail digital over-the-air converter box, so the digital antenna signals can be viewed on their TVs

The blackout has been estimated to affect more than 3 million Time Warner Cable subscribers, with roughly half in the Los Angeles area.

Subscribers in New York will get a brief respite from the blackouts, for the sake of the democratic process. The two companies have agreed to suspend the blackout to air Thursday night's debate between the Democratic candidates for New York City comptroller on WCBS-TV.  

CBS ad during Time Warner blackout

This story has been updated.

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