August 6, 2013

TV shows go dark in Time Warner-CBS dispute

The cable provider blacks out movie channels like Showtime and other network-owned programming across the country.

By Ray Routhier
Staff Writer

Last week, Time Warner Cable raised modem fees. Now it's blacking out popular TV shows such as "Dexter" and "Homeland" because of a fight over money with the programs' owner, CBS.

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Time Warner Cable is blacking out popular TV shows such as "Dexter" and "Homeland" because of a fight over money with the programs' owner, CBS. Above, Michael C. Hall in "Dexter."


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Julie DeRoche looks at it all and gets mad.

She has complained about Time Warner for years – about how her bills keep going up but she can't choose what programs she gets. She has heard her friends say the same. But as someone who is 75 and lives alone, TV is often her only company.

"I have friends who call and complain and get $2 off their bills, but what are we going to do? We're a captive audience," said DeRoche, noting that Time Warner is the only cable company in Gray, where she lives. "They give us what they want, and we have to pay. It's like they're standing there saying, 'Na, na, na-na-na.'"

On Friday, Time Warner dropped CBS-owned pay cable channels -- including Showtime, The Movie Channel, Flix, CBS Primetime on Demand and Smithsonian -- because of a contract dispute with CBS. That means customers who want to watch those channels can't, even if they're paying for them, until the dispute is resolved.

The channels were blacked out on Time Warner systems nationally, including in Maine. Neither side is predicting a quick resolution or saying how much money is at stake.

Time Warner is also blacking out CBS-owned broadcast channels, which air the network's programs, in eight major cities, and full episodes on for Time Warner Internet customers.

Portland's CBS affiliate, WGME, is not affected by that blackout, said Tom Humpage, the station's general manager. WGME is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, not CBS.

The blackouts began after Time Warner and CBS failed to renegotiate the contract that allows Time Warner to transmit CBS-owned channels on its cable systems. Time Warner officials said at one point that CBS was asking for a 600 percent increase, while CBS officials called that number "voodoo mathematics."

Last week, Time Warner irked customers by announcing that the modem lease fee for Internet customers was being raised from $3.95 to $5.99 a month, effective this month. That announcement came just 10 months after Time Warner first imposed those fees, after years of not charging for the modems. The new charge prompted two class-action lawsuits against the cable giant.

Time Warner has 12 million customers nationally and more than 360,000 in Maine. Joli Plucknette-Farmen, public relations manager for Time Warner, said she could not say how many get the premium channels. She said prices for the premium channels vary because they are usually part of a package.

Time Warner is trying to make amends with some customers during the blackout. Customers who subscribe to Showtime and The Movie Channel will get credit on their bills for those channels, Plucknette-Farmen said in a written statement.

The credit will be retroactive to the first day of the blackout, and will be based on the number of days that the channels aren't available.

Customers will not be credited for the other channels that are being blacked out, she said, because those channels are in packages that change from time to time.

"We do not make it a policy to credit customers for any individual channel change, because the whole package continues to provide value," Plucknette-Farmen said.

Both the modem fee increase and the blackout of popular channels likely won't help Time Warner's image with customers. In May, a report by the marketing research company American Customer Satisfaction Index ranked Time Warner last or near last among its major competitors for cable, phone and Internet.

(Continued on page 2)

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