UPN Cries Foul Over Time Warner Drops

United Paramount Network is taking on the parent company of The WB Television Network in a clash over station carriage that could turn out to be as intense as any battle ever fought by Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

At the center of the skirmish, UPN and a number of its affiliates charge that AOL Time Warner's MSO Time Warner Cable refuses to carry low-power UPN stations, weakening the network and affiliates' local ad sales while reducing local sales competition for its own The WB and its affiliates.

The MSO sees the situation differently, though. Time Warner spokeswoman Lynn Yaeger said last Thursday the situation "has nothing to do with local [sales] competition or The WB."

The UPN stations involved include WBQC in Cincinnati, WBGT in Rochester, N.Y, and WLOT in Watertown/Syracuse, N.Y.

UPN chief operating officer Adam Ware told USA Today
last Thursday that the MSO has long refused to carry many low-power UPN affiliates and that negotiations with Time Warner are "at an impasse." UPN's next move may be to ask the Federal Communications Commission to step in and investigate the matter, he said.

In Cincinnati, WBQC has taken its cause directly to consumers via its Web site, under the headline, "The War Continues." Asking viewers to contact senators and representatives, the station told them, "The law should be changed whereby cable systems must carry all local stations that are network affiliates."

Time Warner Cable's Yaeger said, "We have every interest in carrying UPN programming in these cities — but not those stations and not for the reasons they gave" in the article.

She said channel-carriage decisions are made on quality of programming, quality of signal and customer interest, she said. "We don't carry [WLOT] because it has a very, very poor quality signal."

In Cincinnati, "there's no channel available 24/7," she said, adding, "We're willing to carry UPN programming on a shared basis" but the station refuses.

In Rochester, "we're still negotiating," Yaeger said.

WBQC's Web site puts it this way: "Time Warner wants UPN. They are willing to pay a station from another market big $$$ for it and push the added expense to their customers" in the form of higher cable subscriber rates.

The station labeled the operator's approach "pretty ridiculous since WBQC is Cincinnati's UPN affiliate and offers the programming to Time Warner for free."

Because WBQC does not qualify under "must-carry" rules, the station said Time Warner could charge it $1.4 million to lease a channel.

Instead, WBQC said, the MSO seems to be leaning toward importing the signal from Boston's superstation WSBK.

But the station also quoted an official at the MSO as saying those negotiations "did not prove fruitful. It would have cost us $3 million per year plus copyright fees to carry this channel. That is $7.50 per month, per subscriber."

Yaeger maintained that Time Warner was not importing WSBK into any of the three disputed markets.

WBQC also said: "Power isn't the issue. A station only needs to reach the cable headend to be placed on the cable system. And WBQC already has a stronger signal than some of the stations Time Warner carries!"

"We carry low-power stations in a number of markets across the country," Yaeger contended. "Some WB affiliates are not carried by some of our systems," she added.