July 20, 2012

Time Warner, Hearst Television reach agreement to end blackout

The cable company says the long-term agreement will mean the return of WMTW for its Maine customers.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - A corporate dispute that took Portland's ABC television station out of Time Warner Cable's lineup for 10 days ended Thursday night with a long-term agreement and the return of WMTW.

The blackout of WMTW (Channel 8) began early on July 10, after Time Warner Cable and Hearst Television, which owns the station, failed to reach a new agreement determining how much money Time Warner would pay Hearst for the rights to carry its stations around the country.

"We have reached a long-term agreement with Hearst Television and our customers can expect their signals to be restored to our cable system shortly," Time Warner's Portland-based spokesman, Andrew Russell, said in a statement released around 9:15 p.m. Thursday. "We thank our customers for their patience and their willingness to stick with us through another unnecessary broadcaster blackout."

WMTW was restored for viewers in the Portland area around 11:20 p.m. Thursday. Time Warner Cable declined to release details of the agreement.

In a prepared statement posted on WMTW's website, Hearst Television President and CEO David Barrett said, "We appreciate the support and patience of our viewers, advertisers and local communities served by our stations, and we regret the inconvenience they've experienced over the past 10 days. ... This process has been an important step to ensure the ongoing vitality of our local TV service in communities across the country."

Time Warner had claimed that Hearst wanted a 300 percent increase in what Time Warner pays to air 13 Hearst stations nationwide. Neither side said how much Time Warner was paying Hearst.

During the blackout, Time Warner Cable replaced WMTW with the Hallmark Movie Channel and said it had no plans to reimburse customers. Time Warner did not say how many customers in Maine were affected by the blackout.

Without Time Warner, WMTW reached only 170,000 of the 400,000 households in the Portland-Auburn TV market, through satellite services or over the air, Dave Abel, president and general manager of WMTW, said earlier this week.

Abel did not return a call late Thursday.

Time Warner Cable was working to bring WMTW back to most of its cable customers overnight Thursday, according to Time Warner officials.

Subscribers in southern York County, who got programming from an out-of-state ABC affiliate that wasn't affected by the dispute, can expect to have WMTW back sometime today, Time Warner said.

During the blackout, viewers were able to watch WMTW by using an antenna or switching to a satellite provider. WMTW posted frequently on its Facebook page that news broadcasts were available by live-stream on its website.

Shortly after the agreement was announced Thursday night, WMTW posted the news on its Facebook page.

"News 8 should be back on channel 8 very soon," the post read. "We've missed you."

During the dispute, both sides released statements blaming each other for the blackout.

An "FAQ" section about the dispute on Time Warner's website said blackouts are becoming more common nationally because of "greedy broadcasters" who want cable customers to "make up the difference" for a decline in advertising revenue.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com

Twitter: grahamgillian

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