July 8, 2020

Comcast Ordered to Place Bloomberg With TV Peers

The ruling, released late Thursday, asserted that Comcast must include Bloomberg TV in so-called news neighborhoods, a term for locations on a channel lineup with four or more news channels.

It requires Comcast to bring Bloomberg into standard-definition versions of those neighborhoods within 60 days, at least in the biggest cities served by the company.

The F.C.C. decision is a long-sought triumph for Bloomberg, a somewhat obscure business news channel that is owned by Bloomberg L.P., and a setback for Comcast, which owns (through its NBCUniversal division) one of Bloomberg’s more popular competitors, the business news channel CNBC.

It is also a reminder of how much power cable companies have. In Washington, for example, Comcast carries CNBC in standard-definition on channel 39, relatively low on the dial, and Bloomberg on channel 103, where viewers are less likely to stumble upon it. This sort of placement, Bloomberg says, is inhibiting its growth — a common complaint among channel owners.

When Comcast took control of NBCUniversal in early 2011, the government imposed a condition — put forward by Bloomberg lobbyists — that strove to prohibit Comcast from favoring its own news channels over others. Ever since, Bloomberg has been prodding the F.C.C. to force its insertion into news neighborhoods.

Comcast has been pushing back, asserting, among other things, that such a move by the F.C.C. would infringe on its First Amendment rights.

The media bureau of the F.C.C. supported Bloomberg last year, but Comcast appealed to the full commission, prompting Thursday’s affirmation of the original ruling.

Greg Babyak, the head of government affairs for Bloomberg L.P., said the ruling promoted “the availability to the public of diverse sources of news.”

Comcast said it was evaluating its options. Sena Fitzmaurice, the company’s vice president for government communications, said the 2011 condition was being misinterpreted, and “very likely will lead to significant and unwarranted burdens on us, our customers and other programming networks.”

Analysts have said that the F.C.C.’s support of Bloomberg could embolden other news channel owners, like the new Al Jazeera America cable channel, to similarly challenge cable companies.

But it remains unclear how much Bloomberg will actually benefit: one F.C.C. commissioner, Ajit Pai, who dissented in part from the ruling, said “the cure may be worse than the disease” for Bloomberg, because “Comcast may create news neighborhoods consisting entirely of independent news channels,” like C-Span’s trio of channels, and still comply with the condition.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/28/business/media/comcast-ordered-to-place-bloomberg-with-tv-peers.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Time Warner Temporarily Removes CBS in Major Cities

But after an exchange of recrimination-filled statements, and less than a half-hour of cable interruption, the cable company announced that it had halted the blackout of the stations at CBS’s request.

The mercurial series of events followed a daylong negotiation, which was full of fits and starts. The two sides negotiated all day and night Monday, after weeks of public posturing over which side was being more unreasonable in its demands over what are known as retransmission fees. Throughout Monday night, a series of one-hour extensions in the talks seemed to portend that an agreement was near.

But at about midnight Eastern time, the talks broke down, and Time Warner announced it would drop CBS shows, like its summer hit “Under the Dome,” from the homes of millions of Time Warner Cable subscribers. In addition, Time Warner Cable said it would remove the Showtime pay cable channel, home of series like “Homeland,” along with the other cable channels owned by CBS, including TMC, Flix and Smithsonian.

In statements, each side blamed the other. Time Warner Cable said, “The outrageous demands for fees by CBS Corporation have forced Time Warner Cable to remove several of its networks and broadcast stations from our customers’ lineups.” It called CBS’s fee demands “out of line and unfair,” and added, “Sooner or later CBS will threaten others and go dark.”

In its early statement, CBS said, “In spite of all our efforts to hammer out a fair agreement, Time Warner Cable has dropped CBS and Showtime from its channel lineup effective midnight. Meanwhile, they continue to engage in a public campaign of disinformation and voodoo mathematics (featuring wildly inflated percentages) while doggedly restating their positions.”

CBS predicted a settlement would eventually be reached but noted the steps it would take to put pressure to make an agreement. “CBS remains resolute in the pursuit of fair compensation for our programming and will use the full resources available to us to make sure that Time Warner Cable subscribers are aware of its shortsighted, anti-consumer strategy.”

Time Warner Cable also stressed that CBS shows could still be seen on TVs with antennas, and at cbs.com.

Around 5 a.m. on Tuesday, Time Warner Cable said that a new deadline of 5 p.m. Friday was in place.

The move to drop the CBS stations was unusual because in numerous recent cases, warring sides from cable and broadcasters have struck last-minute deals to avoid any interruption of service.

But Time Warner Cable had made clear it intended to limit the fee increases to substantially less than what CBS was demanding. Time Warner Cable has put the increase at 600 percent, a figure that CBS executives described as laughably inflated and wrong. Though no official numbers were publicly discussed, one executive familiar with CBS’s negotiating position put the increase that CBS was demanding at 20 to 25 percent.

The retransmission fees are actually tied to local stations. Cable systems are being asked to pay for the right to carry those stations on their systems. In the past, broadcast networks were content with only guarantees of carriage by cable companies.

But broadcasters, with the CBS president, Leslie Moonves, a leading figure, have in recent years pushed hard to create the same kind of secondary revenues stream – subscribers’ fees – that cable networks enjoy. And the broadcasters have had increasing success.

With that success has come more opposition from cable outlets, which have balked at paying similar fees to broadcast stations that they pay to cable networks, even though in most cases, the broadcast stations are far more watched by their customers.

In a few cases, these showdowns have resulted in extended blackouts of stations in homes where viewers pay cable fees for their television service. That occurred three years ago, in a standoff between Cablevision and the Fox network.

CBS has never before had such an impasse result in the displacement of its stations off a cable system. Mr. Moonves said earlier on Monday in Los Angeles that he was reluctant to take that step but would if necessary.

Time Warner Cable is taking a risk in suspending CBS stations, but it is counting on being able to convince customers that their monthly fees will rise if the broadcaster wins on its demands for hefty increases.

CBS’s timing in this dispute leaves the network in a somewhat more vulnerable position, because other than “Dome” and the reality program “Big Brother,” it does not have a deep store of shows vital to viewers this summer.

But if the dispute were to drag on, the prospect of viewers’ losing access to N.F.L. games may become a crucial source of leverage for the network.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/business/media/time-warner-cbs.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

At New Network, Olbermann Sets Sights on MSNBC

Challenging MSNBC, which has a stable lineup of left-leaning hosts, will be Current TV, where Keith Olbermann will start anchoring the 8 p.m. hour, his former time slot on MSNBC. Rather audaciously, Mr. Olbermann will try to draw viewers away from MSNBC and to his new home, where he wants to add more hours of like-minded hosts.

Already, Mr. Olbermann seems to have succeeded in one respect: in creating a robust marketplace for liberal television talent. Since he left in January, MSNBC has signed prominent contributors like Eugene Robinson, the Washington Post columnist, to new long-term contracts, in some cases staving off Current’s attempts to poach them. MSNBC has also tried out new hosts, like Cenk Uygur, an Internet talk show host who has become the channel’s 6 p.m. anchor. The channel’s total ratings are holding steady so far this year.

Mr. Olbermann, meanwhile, has persuaded some boldface names to appear on Current, where he is recreating his MSNBC show, “Countdown.” His huge challenge will be persuading viewers

to come too, given that the channel is generally only watched only by tens of thousands of viewers at any given time and is high on the channel lineup in most markets. He anticipates that the early viewership totals will be low; he said on a conference call with reporters Friday, “We’re in this for the long haul.”

Few of Mr. Olbermann’s producers or regular guests from MSNBC are joining him on the new show. His entreaties to MSNBC employees sparked something of a bidding war, according to people involved in contract negotiations who insisted on anonymity to avoid distressing executives at MSNBC or Current.

“The threat of Keith’s new show meant that MSNBC had to spend a little bit of extra money — and Phil was willing to do that,” one of the people said, referring to Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC.

Guest bookings are important for cable news channels because viewers come to recognize and expect regular guests with opinions on the left and the right. The channels pay some guests — called contributors or analysts — for exclusive access to them, and also nurture new and influential voices in politics.

MSNBC has effectively created a new row of these voices, mostly on the left, just as the much-higher-rated Fox News Channel has done, mostly on the right.

MSNBC sought this spring to renew the contributor contracts of Mr. Robinson; Ezra Klein, a blogger for The Washington Post; and Christopher Hayes, a writer for The Nation. In an interview, Mr. Griffin declined to talk about contracts in detail, citing his parent company’s policy, but he said that the new deals were done because the contracts happened to be approaching end dates, not because of any threat from Current.

“I wanted to keep them because we have a strong platform, and they wanted to be on this platform,” he said.

Guest bookings are also important because popular guests can become full-time hosts. Mr. Hayes, for instance, is a frequent substitute for Lawrence O’Donnell and for Rachel Maddow, two MSNBC anchors. Now MSNBC is developing a show for Mr. Hayes. Mr. Uygur was groomed the same way.

“There’s a whole new batch of young people we’ve brought in, because we want to keep feeding our system,” Mr. Griffin said, naming as one example Alex Wagner, a writer for The Huffington Post.

Mr. Olbermann has his own liberal voices to nurture on Current, like the muckraking Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi, the law professor Jonathan Turley, and Heather McGhee, who directs the Washington office of the research group Demos, three of the contributors whom Current announced on Friday.

But it is unclear how often the contributors will appear, or how many are being paid. The payments for a liberal filmmaker, Michael Moore, who was named as a contributor in April, will be given to charity. Ken Burns, another filmmaker, told The Baltimore Sun that he was surprised to see his name in that announcement as well; Mr. Olbermann has “been a friend for a long time,” Mr. Burns said. “And when he moved, I said, ‘Oh, I’ll come and do it.’ And I think that’s what it is.”

Mr. Burns said that since he lives in New Hampshire, “I don’t know how I become a contributor.”

A Current spokeswoman declined to comment on individual contracts, but said that “the vast majority” of the contributors have formal agreements.

David Carr contributed reporting.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=8f0cd12c7f1ca5820b86a6f237fad208