CBS scored a decisive PR win in today’s round of its nearly three-week-and-counting battle with Time Warner Cable when it announced it had reached a swift and amicable retransmission deal with Verizon FiOS that covers New York, Los Angeles and Dallas — markets in which CBS is now blacked out to TWC customers. Meanwhile, Time Warner Cable, which has been battling CBS over retrans terms since August 2, took out a full-page newspaper ad in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas — the country’s No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 TV markets — offering antennas to its customers, starting tomorrow, so they can watch CBS over the air. CBS-owned TV stations are blacked out on Time Warner Cable, affecting more than 3 million homes. The ad came in the form of a letter to customers signed by Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt. CBS CEO Leslie Moonves was also busy, writing notes to viewers in affected viewers — but his came in the form of a memo to “staffers”. Together the read like an epistolary of CNN’s soon-to-be-exhumed Crossfire:
— “We remain hard at work trying to reach an agreement that will quickly return CBS shows to you,” Britt said in his letter to customers.
— “I am frankly mystified by what appears to be [Time Warner Cable’s] lack of urgency to resolve this matter for their customers,” Moonves said in his memo about the FiOS deal.
— “We regret CBS has put our customers in this position by withholding its networks,” Britt said.
— “I cannot describe to you the frustration I feel at the way these negotiations have gone. Never in my most pessimistic moments did I ever think that they would have lasted this long and have been so difficult. In many aspects of the deal, Time Warner Cable is demanding different terms than any other company in the business,” Moonves said.
Moonves said the FiOS deal was reached “swiftly and amicably in just a few days”, adding that Time Warner Cable has been offered “almost exactly the same deal for CBS carriage to which Verizon has agreed,” like he meant it to sting — if you’re a TWC exec. He also said that CBS got “fair value” in the FiOS deal but did not elaborate. The deal does not include digital rights to CBS programming, which reportedly is the sticking point on the TWC talks — TWC wants ‘em, but CBS wants to hang on to them so as to sell the rights to Netflix or some other distributor.
CBS enjoyed the element of surprise in its FiOS announcement because its previous deal with FiOS wasn’t set to expire until year’s end.
One day earlier, Time Warner Cable told its customers in CBS-blackout areas it would toss in a free feed of Tennis Channel coverage of the U.S. Open tennis championship. That’s more than 200 hours of U.S. Open play — sweet. But, CBS noted gleefully Wednesday afternoon, Tennis Channel’s more than 200 hours will not include coverage of the mixed doubles final, the women’s singles final, the women’s doubles final, the men’s doubles final, and the crown jewel — the men’s singles final. “The only way to watch CBS’ coverage of the U.S. Open on television is on CBS,” the network said yesterday in a statement.
Sports tend to be a broadcaster’s best friend in these retrans battles. Viewers may be mad as wet hens and blame a broadcast network for a retrans-squabble blackout, but they tend not to be mad enough to forego their sports-viewing obsession. Which brings us to NFL football: Tomorrow also happens to kickoff CBS’ coverage of the 2013 NFL preseason with a primetime game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. NFL football is “The Big Hammer,” as one TV industry exec we talked to put it. “People can do without Modern Family, but they can’t do without NFL — because the fan base…is so rabid. That’s the kind of thing that will cause people to really explore other options…It’s these big events — and every week of football is a big event — that tend to force cable’s hand.” CBS wraps its pre-season coverage Saturday with a St Louis Rams-Denver Broncos matchup. The network’s first regular season game: New England Patriots-Buffalo Bills game on September 8.
On the other hand the blackout is right now impeding CBS’ ability to promote its new fall lineup in three of the country’s five biggest TV markets. Time Warner Cable accounts for about 19% of WCBS’ viewers In the New York area, 37% of KCBS’ audience around Los Angeles, and 25% of KTVT’s market in Dallas, according to SNL Kagan. CBS’ new primetime slate begins to unveil September 18 with the debut of Survivor; the rest of the lineup waits for Premiere Week — the week of September 23.