UPN: Time Warner Is Misusing Cable PowerBy Christian
July 10, 2001 - 7:36 PM
UPN, the Enterprise network that is locked in a fierce battle for young viewers with competitor WB, recently accused WB parent Time Warner of unfairy using its power as a provider of cable provision.
The conflict arose over Time Warner Cable's actions in several communities in northern New York, where the local broadcast UPN affiliates only have a low-power transmitter. Under regulations set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), cable companies are not required to carry low-power television stations. In cities such as Cincinnati and Rochester, Time Warner indeed chose not to carry the programming of the local UPN affiliate, even though it was available to them for free.
Instead, the cable company imported UPN programming from Boston-based superstation WSBK, for which it had to pay. According to Time Warner, this was done because the television signals from the UPN affiliates are too weak to provide good video and sound quality. "We want to carry UPN programming," the cable company's Mike Luftman told USA Today. "This is about negotiating the appropriate terms and getting a high-quality signal."
But according to local UPN affiliates, their signal is fine, and Time Warner is simply doing this to limit their audience. "This is another ploy to weaken local competition and UPN, the chief rival to [Time Warner's] WB," said David Grant, general manager of WBGT in Rochester.
And according to UPN itself, this is a concerted effort by Time Warner to limit local ad sales competition for WB affiliates. "It's been very clear that Time Warner does not wish to carry any of these low-power stations," UPN chief operating officer Adam Ware said. The network felt that the decision was only about economics, as Time Warner is also blocking stations such as the UPN affiliate in Cincinnati, which "has been on for 10 years, has local sports rights and is carried on every other cable system except Time Warner's."
The network is currently negotiating with Time Warner, but Warner said that these "are at an impasse right now." UPN is considering complaining to the FCC, contending that it would be illegal for Time Warner to import the Boston UPN affiliate's programming. FCC rules give stations the exclusive local rights to show programming of the network with which they are affiliated, and by importing programming from other markets Time Warner may be violating this rule.
If the complaint is successful and Time Warner Cable still wants to carry UPN programming in its market, it may have no choice but to carry the programming of local low-power affiliates.