Time Warner Cable subscribers in North Idaho looking to enjoy Fox programming might be out of luck on Friday, with the possibility looming that local Fox affiliate KAYU-TV will pull the plug on the cable company. Subscribers in Pullman, Moscow and Libby, Mont., are also at risk of losing access to the channel.
According to Fox 28 General Manager Jon Rand, the station and Time Warner Cable have been butting heads since mid-June over whether the cable provider should have to pay to include the local broadcast station in its lineup.
Fox 28’s lineup includes popular programs such as “American Idol,” “The OC” and “The Simpsons.” ” Three of the station’s programs, “House,” “Fox NFL Sunday” and “The OC,” are among the top 10 most-viewed shows in the nation, according to a poll conducted at the end of November by Nielsen Media Research.
Rand said the station extended the deadline for a settlement several times, but is now holding firm: if an agreement isn’t reached by midnight tonight, Fox 28 will be pulled from Time Warner Cable’s lineup.
In recent years, the dynamic between broadcast stations and cable companies has changed, making it possible for broadcast stations like Fox 28 to start demanding payment from cable companies for permission to carry their signal.
But Time Warner insists it shouldn’t have to pay for programming that people can access with an antenna.
“KAYU is asking Time Warner to pay for a signal that people can get for free,” said Correen Stauffer, the Northwest area general manager for Time Warner Cable. “Cable customers should not be penalized for KAYU’s insistence in getting paid to stay on the cable system.”
Rand sees it differently.
“The cable company is charging the customer to receive KAYU,” he said. “They’re taking our product and reselling to somebody at our expense.”
Rand also noted that most local cable providers and all satellite television companies are currently paying Fox 28 for permission to carry the channel.
Stauffer said other local broadcast channels do not charge Time Warner Cable to include them in the cable provider’s lineup.
“We don’t believe that asking our customers to subsidize free local broadcasts is in the best interest of our customers,” she said.
Rand characterized the negotiations as “David versus Goliath … and we’re not Goliath.” While the station is affiliated with Fox, it is actually owned by Northwest Broadcast.
“We’re small-market TV broadcasters just trying to get by,” he said.
On the Time Warner Northwest Web site, the company told customers it was “unlikely” that Fox 28 will be taken off of Time-Warner Cable’s lineup.
“It is possible that local Fox affiliate Fox 28 will no longer give Time Warner Cable permission to carry its channel,” the Web site said. “We are working hard to obtain this permission and ultimately come to an agreement so that this channel will remain on your lineup.”
Rand said that though no further talks were scheduled, the possibility of “an eleventh-hour settlement” remained open.
Comcast cable customers in Spokane are not at risk of losing Fox 28, according to a Comcast spokesman.