Most Wall Streeters seem to think that CBS will prevail in its effort to extract a big price increase from Time Warner Cable when they ultimately resolve their retransmission consent dispute. The fight involves CBS-owned stations that reach some 3.5M TWC homes, primarily in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. But with the companies still at an impasse, CBS could go dark in the key TWC systems this Wednesday when their current carriage deal expires. Cable and satellite companies tend to blink first in retransmission disputes. As the No. 1 broadcast network, CBS is an unusually formidable adversary. Time also may be on CBS’ side: The football season begins in September and that must-have programming could “force a solution,” RBC Capital Markets’ David Bank says. Meanwhile, TWC could be distracted by a takeover battle. (Charter Communications, with support from its largest investor Liberty Media’s John Malone, reportedly is working with Goldman Sachs on a bid.) Bank believes that CBS ultimately wants to collect $2 per month for each TWC customer its stations reach, probably a 100% increase vs the current deal. Even so, “We have to side with CBS on this one,” says Wells Fargo Securities’ Marci Ryvicker.
But TWC may have more leverage than the Street believes. “This is the first time we have ever felt that a [pay TV distributor] was justified going to war against a broadcaster,” says BTIG’s Richard Greenfield. CBS’ NFL games are about 60 days away “which is a LONG time for CBS to be dark in New York and LA, the two largest advertising markets,” he says. What’s more, Aereo — the service that streams local broadcast signals — is up in NYC, and could be running in Dallas by September. That “could be a major benefit to Time Warner Cable in this negotiation.” That’s why the analyst says that he “would not be surprised to see CBS settle” before Wednesday night. “If they do not this could be a very long, ugly battle.”