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Several channels at risk in TWC talks

Time Warner Cable's 430,000 subscribers in South Carolina could lose more than seven channels Friday if talks over subscriber fees break down.

Involved are seven channels from Fox - SportSouth, FX, Speed, Fuel, Fox Reality, Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Espanol. The current fee deals end Thursday.

Fox News and Fox's network affiliates, including Columbia's WACH, are not included in the negotiations. They will remain on Time Warner Cable after Friday.

Meanwhile, Time Warner remains in talks with a "handful" of other channels over subscriber fee contracts that end Thursday, spokeswoman Melissa Buscher said. Those non-Fox channels, which she declined to name, also could go dark without new deals.

The cable company, which has more than 150,000 subscribers in the Columbia area, said it's fighting "massive price increases" requested by some programmers.

Fees charged by channels have risen sharply in recent years and led to higher subscriber rates. This month, Time Warner Cable customers in South Carolina started paying $4 to $18 more a month for popular TV packages.

Programmers, including Fox, say they provide the shows and events that draw viewers to pay-TV offered by cable, satellite and phone companies. Fox says it just wants a more fair share of what Time Warner Cable charges customers.

"Time Warner packages and resells our signal for its customers, and they make a lot of money doing it," Mike Hopkins, Fox's president of affiliate sales and marketing, told The New York Times. "We simply want to seek fair compensation for that."

Fights over subscriber fees have already blocked some channels from cable and satellite TV customers.

The sports network Versus is no longer being carried on the DirecTV satellite service after the sides failed to reach a new fee deal in August. And Time Warner Cable does not carry the NFL Network, in part, over proposed subscriber fees.

Fees can vary depending on a channel's popularity. Most channels cost pay-TV providers less then $1 per subscriber, but ESPN is known for receiving the highest fee, more than $3.50 per subscriber, according to published reports.

Some programmers sought even higher fees this year to compensate for a fall-off in advertising from the recession, Buscher said.

The amount cable, satellite and phone TV operators pay in subscriber fees has grown by double digits each of the past three years, SNL Kagan research analyst Justin Nielson told The New York Times.

That has led to higher bills for pay-TV customers.

Time Warner Cable raised monthly subscriber rates this month on its most popular services between 7 percent and 18 percent, citing higher programming costs.

DirecTV said it's raising monthly rates by 4 percent starting in February for the same reason.

Buscher said Time Warner Cable hopes Fox and the other programmers with subscriber-fee agreements ending Thursday will keep their channels on air if negotiations extend past New Year's Day.

Efforts to reach Fox officials Tuesday were unsuccessful.

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