Time Warner Cable is deleting two CBS affiliates from systems in North and South Carolina where they are out-of-market and duplicative of in-market CBS stations, part of an MSO-wide effort to clear room for HDTV programming and other services.
But the move came much to the chagrin of the stations’ owner, Media General, which has complained to the Federal Communications Commission.
The emergency enforcement complaint claimed Time Warner Cable failed to follow its notification rules. TWC said it provided the requisite notice. The FCC was mulling the complaint at press time.
Media General filed the complaint against TWC’s deletion of WBTW, serving Florence/Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Aug. 11 from cable systems serving Georgetown, S.C. Media General said TWC also planned to drop the stations from more systems on Aug. 20, but that date was moved. TWC’s Georgetown/Debordieu, S.C., operation carries WCSC-TV, a Raycom Media-owned CBS affiliate in Charleston, S.C.
“Georgetown County is right down the street from us,” station vice president and general manager Michael Caplan said. “It is a surfside community that begins seven miles from where our facility is in Myrtle Beach, but an hour and a half from Charleston.”
The flap comes against a backdrop of continuing debate over whether Nielsen Media Research’s designated market areas need to be revamped to better align with local viewing patterns, though DMA supporters say the markets are already determined according to a combination of factors that include those patterns.
“We believe we complied with the law,” Time Warner Cable spokeswoman Maureen Huff said. “We provided legal notice in several forms regarding the drop.”
Huff said the company placed a legal notice in newspapers 30 days prior to the drop, and had served notice on its local system’s Web site.
Time Warner Cable also is dropping Media General’s WNCT-TV in Greenville, N.C., which Huff says is also a duplicative signal, and said the company provided sufficient notice there, too. Media General says it didn’t.
The FCC requires cable operators to inform customers of any change in channel positions in writing at least 30 days in advance if the change “is within the control of the cable operator.”
Cable systems also must provide written notice to any TV station, and to their subscribers, at least 30 days before dropping or repositioning a station.
Media General says it first learned the stations had been dropped when it received a “flood” of calls from “disenfranchised viewers.”
The broadcaster, though, acknowledged that the cable operator published legal notices announcing the move on July 7 and 8 in two area newspapers, and had mailed a postcard to subscribers Aug. 6.
Media General said those notices were inadequate because more than 75% of households don’t subscribe to the two newspapers where the ads appeared, and because the postcard hardly provided 30 days notice of deletions that came a few days later.
Huff said the postcard was simply meant to be a “courtesy notice” following the legal advertisement that provided the minimum 30-day notice.
Time Warner Cable also said it’s pushing back the planned drop of WBTW. In a letter to the commission, the New York-based MSO said “notwithstanding any notices previously provided to Media General, TWC is writing at this time to inform the Commission that there are no plans to drop WBTW in any additional communities without providing 30 days’ notice to the Commission and to Media General. Thus, there is no need for the commission to address the matters raised by Media General on an 'emergency’ basis.”
TWC spokeswoman Melissa Buscher told WBTW in a news interview that dropping the stations is about removing duplicative programming to make room for what its customers wanted: faster broadband speeds and more HD services.
“We certainly disagree and think the marketplace is disagreeing very loudly with this,” Caplan told Multichannel News, saying station officials heard from about 2,000 viewers via phone and online registering their complaints about the deletion. He also suggested dropping his station during hurricane season could put viewers at risk.
Huff said customers who lost access to WBTW still have access to local NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox news programming, “as well as The Weather Channel and the Internet.”
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