A disagreement over the costs to carry ABC affiliate WMUR’s signal on a North Country cable system has left residents there without a New Hampshire-based TV newscast.
Time Warner Cable pulled the plug on WMUR at midnight on June 30 when the three-year agreement ended. At the heart of the dispute is the cost of carrying programing. Last week, an impasse in negotiations between Hearst Television and Time Warner led to the blacking out of Portland-based WMTW’s channel on the cable carrier.
“In the past, we have agreed with Hearst TV to carry their stations on our cable systems. This year they have asked for rate increases that are out of line — 300 percent for the same programming they continue to deliver for free over the air and some online. We think that’s unfair,” Andrew Russell, Time Warner spokesman in Portland, Maine, wrote in an e-mail response to a reporter’s inquiry.
He added: “One cause of higher cable TV prices is higher fees being demanded by greedy broadcasters. As their advertising dollars decline, they want cable customers to make up the difference. And, if we don’t agree to their outrageous demands, they take away their programming.”
WMUR categorized the 300 percent increase as a misrepresentation.
“We didn’t have any expectation it’d end this way after 150 other negotiations,” Alex Jasiukowicz, WMUR’s creative services director, said of Hearst TV’s carriage contracts.
“If you add up the sum total costs to provide programming, it is what it is,” Jasiukowicz said.
He said that negotiations are ongoing, and the hope is there will be a resolution soon.
Alternative viewing options, Jasiukowicz said, include some broadcasts that are now streamed online at wmur.com and the station’s signal broadcast over the air, which can be picked up with conventional antennas or via satellite dish providers (DISH and DirecTV).
Pat McClean of Lancaster said Time Warner Cable has replaced the missing ABC signal with the Hallmark Channel.
“We get Hallmark on another station already and don’t need it twice,” McLean said Monday. “My husband called Time Warner and the call got shunted to Buffalo and that’s not doing us a lot of good with what’s happening locally,” she said.
Pulling the ABC affiliate left McLean and others with no news offerings with New Hampshire ties. “We get TV news out of Maine and Burlington, Vt., and two stations from Montreal, but we don’t speak French and they don’t cover New Hampshire,” McLean said. “None of those stations is reporting and covering what is happening up here.”
John Arruda, a Madison selectman, said he has sent letters to the cable company and the broadcast company, and that all he has gotten back are form letters.
Having a statewide station with the capacity to notify the public quickly about dangerous weather conditions is a safety issue, he said. The recent microburst in Tilton is a case in point, he said.
Peter Joseph, Lincoln town manager, said that for seniors and low-income residents, basic cable is almost essential.
“That’s the cheapest option to get TV,” he said. “Even today, not everyone uses internet.”
Russell said customers can find out more about Hearst’s blackout via its website.
New Hampshire Union Leader Correspondent Sara Young-Knox contributed to this report.
(c)2012 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)
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