If you’re a Time Warner customer who actively watches CBS programming you may be in for a long standoff between the two corporations. The New York Times is reporting that the blackout of CBS and Showtime networks and affiliates may be a long battle with the outcome predicated on who blinks first during the upcoming NFL season. However, it may be CBS that blinks first in their negotiations to increase their re-transmission fee to $2 per subscriber from the current dollar the obtain from Time Warner.
For this brouhaha we can thank a small provision of the 1992 Cable Television Protection and Competition Act that granted content providers the right to obtain consent for channels distributed by cable and satellite providers, and was mainly used in the 90s to give content providers leverage in getting cable companies to carry more of their content and channels. Lately, it’s all been about cash and the billions that these fees have on the content providers bottom line (which, before profits, is used to cover the operating/production costs of its current, and future, slate of programming). Time Warner would like nothing more than to see this provision of the Act obliterated by Congress, but for now, CBS has the clout via the Act to request higher fees. The only way for Time Warner to push back is to refuse to carry some or all of their programming. Though it’s tough to sympathize with cable companies like Time Warner and satellite companies like DirecTV (which allied itself with Time Warner over the weekend by defending TW’s position in the stalled negotiations).
Though the blackout could last days, weeks or even a month until NFL season officially starts, the standoff could backfire on CBS. Though they may get an increase in the fee from Time Warner, TW could force some of their less desirable programming off the air via a new contract, or just bite the bullet on a lesser fee. However, as a reluctant third-party in this mess, it’s doubtful the NFL will let CBS put the early part of the football season in jeopardy.
As one of the last national sports to be carried by the networks for “free” (if you have an HDTV over-the-air antenna, it is still free for the taking) and not placed behind a carrier’s paywall the last thing the NFL will allow is for this dispute to come between their all-American game and their fans. Though the opening kickoff game will be carried by NBC on September 5th, CBS is to begin broadcasting its slate of AFC kickoff day games on September 8th. CBS is also due to carry the historic London NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Vikings on September 29th, though the blackout is not likely to last long unless corporate chieftains really are just psychopaths in smart suits and fancy ties. In the meantime, Under The Dome is on tonight, but if you’re a Time Warner customer you’ll only be able to watch Starz Kids and Family. Yay.