Time Warner Cable Inc. customers from Portland, Maine, to Pensacola, Fla., could lose access to one of their network TV stations because of a contract dispute with Sinclair Broadcast Group.
The dust-up between Sinclair and Time Warner is one of a growing number of disputes over the fees that cable providers pay broadcast stations to include their signals in channel lineups. The last high-profile dispute that caused a blackout came earlier this year when Cablevision Systems Corp. customers went without Fox programming for 15 days - missing two World Series games.
In most cases, however, cable and broadcast companies have been able to avoid blackouts, even if negotiations go down the wire.
Broadcast companies used to allow cable providers to carry their channels for free and made their money selling commercial time. But competition with cable networks for ad dollars has intensified, and the recession underscored how quickly ad spending can fall off when businesses need to cut spending. Now broadcasters see these fees from cable providers as a crucial, second revenue stream.
In the latest dispute, Sinclair is asking for more cash for the right to carry signals from its stations, but Time Warner Cable is resisting the increase.