Thursday, May 23, 2013
PORTLAND — Time Warner Cable says it probably won't compensate subscribers for their loss of Portland's ABC television affiliate during Time Warner's dispute with the station's owner.
For the third day, WMTW (Channel 8) was blacked out to Time Warner subscribers Thursday because of a contract negotiation stalemate between Time Warner and WMTW's owner, Hearst Television.
The loss of a major network affiliate, and one of Maine's few local news stations, has frustrated and confused viewers. One question they have is whether they will get a price break on their cable bills, since they have lost some of the programming they usually get.
The cable provider does "not typically offer a credit for channels that have been blacked out," said Portland-based Time Warner spokesman Andrew Russell.
"Customers do not pay for channels on an individual basis. They pay for a package of channels plus the technology and service required to deliver those channels," Russell said.
Terry Berry, a real estate broker from Hallowell who regularly watches local and national news on WMTW, said he disagrees with Time Warner's logic.
"That would be like if I went to Hannaford (Supermarkets) for a dozen eggs, and all of a sudden they gave me 11 for the same price," Berry said. "I'm not getting something I normally get, but I am paying the same price."
Berry said the loss of WMTW hits many Maine viewers harder than the loss of some other channels would, because WMTW is one of only three Portland stations that produce their own newscasts.
"So we've lost 33 percent of our (local news) options," Berry said.
A point of confusion for some viewers Thursday was what will be shown on Time Warner Cable in WMTW's place while the blackout continues.
Russell said Wednesday that viewers in a few southern York County towns -- including Wells, York, Ogunquit and North Berwick -- would get the programming of WUTR, an ABC affiliate in Utica, N.Y.
But viewers in those towns had not gotten the replacement ABC station by Thursday morning, and some called or emailed Time Warner to find out why.
Peggy Loeb, a 71-year-old retiree in York, said she couldn't get a person on the phone but managed to ask her questions in an online chat with a Time Warner representative. She said she didn't get any "satisfactory" answers.
"I wanted to know how I could see (WUTR) but he just went into the whole thing about how they were negotiating, and he told me that they didn't have the channel I was talking about," Loeb said.
Russell said Thursday that Time Warner still plans to bring WUTR's programming to viewers in southern York County but it would take another "day or so" to make that happen.
When the station does arrive on Time Warner, it will be on Channel 8, Russell said.
Most Time Warner subscribers who usually get WMTW will not get WUTR or any other ABC station. Russell said "rules" prevent that from happening, but he would not say whose rules or what rules they are.
Time Warner subscribers in most areas where WMTW usually is carried, including Greater Portland, are getting the Hallmark Movie Channel in WMTW's place.
Viewers in Portland who tuned to Channel 8 at 2 p.m. Thursday saw a re-run of "Murder, She Wrote" and got no written explanation of why WMTW was not being shown.
Russell said Time Warner ran a message on WMTW's usual channels for the first day and a half of the blackout, explaining the situation and telling viewers they could get more information online at www.twcconversations.com/local.
Time Warner chose to show the Hallmark Movie Channel in WMTW's place "because we could be confident that its high-quality, family-friendly programming would be appropriate" for viewers, Russell said.
Dave Abel, president and general manager of WMTW, said he didn't see "any big problem" with Time Warner showing another network in WMTW's place.
Time Warner's blackout of WMTW began early Tuesday, after negotiations on the yearly contract between Hearst Television and Time Warner broke down. At issue is how much Time Warner will pay Hearst for the rights to broadcast Hearst stations around the country.
More than 40 corporate disputes have led to station blackouts across the country in the last two years, as more broadcasters have battled with cable and satellite providers over money, and as competition from other programming sources has intensified.
Neither Time Warner nor Hearst will say what the specifics of their agreement are. And neither side has said when it expects the dispute and blackout to end.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: