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When the new season of the Emmy Award-winning spy drama “Homeland” premieres on Sept. 29, there’s a chance that Time Warner Cable customers won’t be able to watch it. And they’re missing episodes in the final season of the critically acclaimed “Dexter.”
Since Aug. 2, Showtime – as well as The Movie Channel, Flix, Smithsonian and CBS Prime Time on Demand – have gone dark for Time Warner customers as the cable providers and CBS battle over a new contract.
Time Warner is the nation’s second-largest cable provider with more than 12.3 million customers and the dominant provider in the Columbia region.
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CBS claims that Time Warner is not negotiating in good faith and is “dropping” the channels.
Time Warner notes that CBS has record profits based on its hardball negotiations with platforms such as cable and satellite in the digital age and is ratcheting up its demands for money.
Raymond Sauer, economics department chairman at Clemson University, calls it a “disintermediation.”
“There is the emergence of alternative platforms to view the content,” he said. “There are more competitors to Time Warner than there have ever been before. The content providers (like CBS) are seeking to capture more of the value for themselves.”
And it’s not just between Time Warner and CBS.
“It’s happening all over,” Sauer said. “It’s a fight over media rights, who pays and how much.”
For instance, the Dish satellite network on Aug. 2 stopped broadcast of Raycom Media stations in 36 markets – including WIS-TV in Columbia – in a fight over transmission fees. That dispute was settled on Aug. 9 and WIS-TV is up on Dish once again.
WIS General Manager Donita Todd called renegotiation of transmission fees “normal. They happen every three to five years.” But she added that an actual disruption is “very rare. We haven’t had one in years.
“That’s a major disruption,” Todd said of the Dish dispute. “So we try like heck to not have it happen.”
Sauer said that the stakes are raised because of the number of players involved: content providers, over-the-air broadcasters, cable providers, satellite companies and, more and more, digital providers such as Netflix.
“The ultimate providers are trying to bypass the middle men in this process,” he said.
In addition to not being able to view Showtime and the other CBS premium channels, Time Warner customers also can’t access any full length series on CBS.com, which are usually made available by the network a few days after episodes are broadcast.
Shannon Jacobs, a CBS spokeswoman in New York, declined comment. CBS executive vice president Martin Franks said on a network website set up after the dispute that the cutoff was Time Warner’s fault.
“Time Warner Cable’s record is littered with many public disputes,” he said. “We know that the best solution is to reach a new agreement with Time Warner Cable that reconnects their subscribers to our programs, and we have been trying to do just that, but doing so will take two.”
Scott Pryzwansky, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable in Greensboro, N.C., said the company is working to settle the fight.
“Time Warner Cable is always negotiating new contracts with TV stations and networks and many of them are resolved without the general public knowing they are taking place,” he said. “CBS has shown utter lack of regard for consumers by blocking Time Warner Cable’s customers, including our high-speed data only customers, from accessing their shows on their free website. CBS enjoys the privilege of using public owned airwaves to deliver their programming – they should not be allowed to abuse that privilege.”
But that doesn’t help fans of “Homeland,” who want to see the next installment of Carrie Mathison’s pursuit of Nicholas Brody.
No worries, Sauer said.
“They’ll get it down the road in a different medium,” he said.