Time Warner Brings Customers Into Fee Battle

Time Warner Cable Inc. is bringing its customers into its battle over programming fees it pays to stations to carry their signals on its systems.

The company - the nation's second-largest
cable TV operator - began asking its subscribers this week to vote on whether it should "roll over" or "get tough" in negotiations with the networks. It claims it will use the survey results when officials sit down at the table with the stations whose contracts are up this year. Those networks include The Weather Channel; some News Corp. stations, including the FX channel, which carries such hits as "Damages"; some cable channels owned by Scripps Networks Interactive, which owns Food Network and HGTV; and several Sinclair Broadcast Group TV stations - Sinclair owns 58 stations in 35 markets, including San Antonio, Tampa and Las Vegas. 

Thing is, either way, if the programming fees go up - no matter how tough or not Time Warner is at the negotiating table - subscriber fees are sure to go up. And who's going to vote online that they want Time Warner to "roll over" in negotiations?

Time Warner and many cable companies have, in the past, taken out ads accusing stations that provide the programming of price-gouging. But given the continuing move of broadcast and cable content to the Internet, it's unclear how much either the programmers or providers can continue to increase fees before losing those revenues altogether. Rival Comcast
has been partnering with content providers to bring shows online for no extra charge to current subscribers.

Time Warner is claiming that some outlets have quadrupled their asking price for programming fees, which generally are on a per-subscriber basis.

Programmers say the fault lies with the cable operators, not the program providers. They have "misallocated the money they spend to acquire programming by paying more for programming that's not as popular," said Barry Faber, general counsel of Sinclair, in an interview with the Associated Press.