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Turner Network Television is looking for at least a 2-cent-per-year increase over at least a five-year period — and is threatening to withhold marquee programming if it doesn't get it — as part of an initial new rate-card pitch to operators, several executives have said.

Operators are reporting that TNT, which currently costs around 70 cents per subscriber, is pitching a "TNT Plus" package: a five- to six-year agreement that calls for a rate increase of around 2 cents to 5 cents each year to help subsidize costs for recent, expensive and high-profile programming acquisitions.

TNT representatives would not comment on the network's negotiations with cable operators.

TNT's current affiliate deal with several operators expires at year's end. For operators with long-term carriage deals that extend beyond 2002, TNT hopes to renegotiate to reflect terms of the TNT Plus agreement.

The network would withhold marquee programming from operators who decide to remain with the current network deal, sources said.

"Under the new deal, they would have the right to black out some TNT Plus programming without providing any substitute programming," one MSO programming executive said.


Although it's unclear exactly what programs would be subject to blackout, some operators believe it will most likely include games from the network's new six-year, $2.2 billion NBA deal.

Under that pact, TNT will air 52 regular-season games — most scheduled as exclusive Thursday-night doubleheaders — as well as 45 playoff games, including one conference-final round and both conference-semifinal rounds in their entirety. TNT, in a cable first, will also air the NBA All-Star Game.

TNT also could choose to withdraw its popular National Association of Stock Car Racing programming or its slate of upcoming blockbuster film titles. Just last month, the network nabbed first TV broadcast rights to the hit box-office movie Spider-Man
in a $60 million co-rights deal with Fox Broadcasting Corp.

Earlier this year, TNT and TBS Superstation, along with sister broadcast network The WB, combined to acquire first-run television rights to the popular Lord of the Rings
movie trilogy for a reported $160 million.

At least one operator was concerned about the precedent TNT could set by trying to renegotiate a standing rate-card agreement.

"By right, they don't really have an opening [within the deal] to charge operators more, but [TNT] wants to entice [operators] by saying 'If you want this new product, you'll have to pay more for it,' " said the operator. "It's not a great precedent, but that's what they're trying to offer."

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.