TWC-News Corp. Extend Talks; Scripps’ HGTV, Food Go Dark On Cablevision

Rachael Ray

Update: That “brief” extension turned into an all-nighter for Time Warner Cable, which is still negotiating with News Corp (NYSE: NWS) and Scripps on behalf of itself and private cable operator Bright House. Check our comments for a taste of what they face if deals can’t be reached and Fox, Food and more get yanked today.

Original: Past midnight on the east coast and Fox is still on Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) during a brief extension while negotiations continued. But Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) fans of home decor and cooking just took a hit. Harsh words from the Long Island cable operator as it fails to reach an agreement with Scripps Networks (NYSE: SNI) to keep HGTV and the Food Network on its systems, while Scripps says it is asking for “pennies” for “top 10” networks.

Cablevision claims: “Unfortunately, Scripps has decided to stop distributing HGTV and Food Network to Cablevision customers upon the expiration of our current agreement at midnight, December 31.  We are sorry that Scripps’ current financial difficulties are making it impossible for them to continue our relationship on terms that are reasonable for Cablevision and our customers.  We wish Scripps well and have no expectation of carrying their programming again, given the dramatic changes in their approach to working with distributors to reach television viewers.”

A CVC rep said the company won’t go beyond the statement when I asked for an explanation of the reference to finances. Scripps EVP John Lansing pushed back in a statement issued after the company’s initial PR push: “Scripps Networks Interactive is among the fastest growing and most financially sound media companies in all of cable television.” Scripps recently acquired majority interest in the Travel Channel through a leveraged JV with Cox; the debt is just under $700 million. The company sold its UK comparison shopping site uSwitch last week after months of searching for a buyer.

Scripps, which says it has never been off the air because of a contract dispute with a distributor and would continue negotiations, is asking its viewers to lobby Cablevision for a return, claiming that CVC is off base. In a video clip, HGTV President Jim Samples explains that Cablevision will tell you the cost increase Scripps is asking for has to be passed on to subscribers “but it’s simply not the case. The rates ... are some of the lowest in the industry. ... The adjustments we’re asking for are just pennies per subscriber and that should have no real effect on consumers.”

The dispute affects roughly three million households in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; it also cuts CVC’s HD lineup by two. Scripps EVP John Lansing contends that even with the rate increase about 35 other networks would be getting higher fees than Food or HGTV. More from the Scripps perspective in this release.

Meanwhile, TWC continues to talk with separately with News Corp and Scripps, leaving those channels live for now. TWC is also negotiating on behalf of Bright House. Why are negotiations continuing well past 3 a.m. eastern? Because people can catch up on recorded shows but live sports events are leverage and big bowl games rank high on that scale. The Sugar Bowl with Cincinnati vs. Florida airs on Fox at 8 p.m. on New Year’s Day.

O Doctor! My Doctor! Dr. Who Says Goodbye To David Tennant

People who love Dr. Who really love Dr. Who. The BBC remake of the beloved and long-running (1963 to 1989!) series solidified star David Tennant as a geek icon (and sex symbol) — which made his exit from the series today in a much-hyped event by the BBC a really big deal, so much so that #DrWho and #DavidTennant have been trending on Twitter all day.

Tennant is the 10th Doctor, so who knows, newcomer Matt Smith one may yet win viewes’ hearts. As @markltbaker noted on his Twitter:

#DrWho Doctors are like buses. If you miss one, there will be another along eventually.

Aw. Here’s the trailer for the new series:

Surrendering advertising … killing bundling

Two things strike me about News Corp.’s battle to get cable fees:

(1) Again and again lately, the company is surrendering the advertising battle. In newspapers, it is saying that advertising won’t support its high costs and so it will sacrifice traffic and advertising the hopes of building build pay walls. In MySpace, the company handed over its advertising fate to Google and then couldn’t produce. Now in TV — which is where Murdoch fils says the future of the company lies — they’re trying to eke fees from cable operators.

(Under must-carry rules, a station can demand premium placement — which would benefit audience and advertising — or can demand a fee, but the cable company can decline to pay and carry the station. That’s the stand-off occurring now.)

(2) News Corp. may succeed at getting fees from cable operators, but I predict that will raise prices for consumers as more and more fees are passed along; consumers will be further enraged that they have to spend money for bundles of channels they don’t want or watch; and that will give regulators the cause they need to demand a la carte pricing — which will end up hurting and likely killing second- and third-tier cable channels subsidized by bundles and wil hurt cable operators as they end up charging less.

Add to this the paper-tiger nature of News Corp. threat to take Fox stations off cable. Oh, no, they taunt on crawls across the screen, you won’t get American Idol. Except we will, online, on Hulu, co-owned by News Corp. For News Corp. knows that the value of its own stations as ad vehicles is diminishing as the value of internet distribution rises. And so then this story comes full circle as News Corp. will likely threaten to charge consumers on Hulu — again, a capitulation in the advertising model.

What we’re seeing is the disaggregation of another media form. We don’t buy albums; we buy singles. We don’t buy newspapers or magazines; we aggregate, curate, and link to the best stories we like, bypassing editors’ packaging. We don’t go to bookstores to get the books the system decides to put on the shelves; we buy what we want from Amazon. We listen to radio less and listen to our own playlists more (a trend that will only accelerate as we listen to new forms of radio on our phones). Now we will end up picking and choosing TV channels and even shows, diminishing the power network and station programmers’ and cable MSO’s hold over us.

At the highest level, what we’re seeing is the death of the mass audience — and the value of distribution — and the advertising model that supported it.

I don’t think advertising is dead. I think it’s dying for mass companies with high cost structures. Advertising will shrink, as Bob Garfield argues in the Chaos Scenario, and it will migrate to new media and new forms. News Corp. knows that; every media company finally does.

So I think we’re seeing News Corp. milk the dying cash cow. Newspapers aren’t going to grow and will shrivel and sometimes die. The value of local stations is only going to shrink. (MySpace was a mistake.) So News Corp. is begging for cash wherever it can get it — from readers online or viewers on cable (via cable companies’ billing) — no matter that there’s no strategy there.

Blake Fleetwood: Oops: Your Subpoena “Is No Longer Necessary,” Department of Homeland Security

Yesterday travel blogger Christopher Elliott,
who was being intimidated by the TSA to give up his sources, and threatened with having all his computers confiscated, was suddenly informed in a letter:

"This is to confirm our earlier telephone conversation that the TSA subpoena of December 29, 2009, issued to your client, Mr. Christopher Elliott, is being withdrawn as no longer necessary.

Thank you for your assistance and have a happy and safe New Year.

John A. Drennan
Deputy Chief Counsel (Enforcement)
Office of the Chief Counsel
Transportation Security Administration
Department of Homeland Security

Similarly fellow travel blogger Steven Frischling , who had also been served with a subpoena in connection with the security directive, and whose laptop was seized, says that a DHS phone call last night let him know he was off the hook. "They apologized to me, but did they have to come to my house, with three young kids, with armed weapons?

Frischling says that the agency had offered to buy him a new computer and all he had to do is fill out the forms. The day before, armed agents had threatened him with getting fired from his job as a KLM blogger and with taking all his computers, electronic devices, and phones from his house.

Frischling consented to a search of his computer and hard drive, but it was damaged when they returned it the next day.

Somebody up there obviously realized how stupid this brazen attempt to intimidate bloggers looked, after Huffington Post and other major news sources jumped on the story wednesday, see TSA Seizes Computer from Travel Blogger

Clearly, Homeland Security Agents have better things to do than go after bloggers who have published a security directive that was widely circulated to 10,000 offices around the world.

The broader issue of my situation, Elliott told Huffington Post, is the need for a Federal shield law for journalists and how the Government does or doesn't protect journalists.

"This is an example of a government out of control...that does not help journalists protect their sources. The TSA has left itself vulnerable to complaints. Can the government intimidate journalists? Can they go on fishing expeditions?"

60% of the states have enacted shield laws, but similar protections do not exist on the federal level, as a result of a close, 5-4, 1972 Supreme Court decision, which held that the First Amendment did not protect journalists from having to reveal their sources.

News and Media organizations have strongly urged Congress to protect confidential sources in the federal courts, but these effort have not prevailed due to strong resistance from law enforcement agencies after 9/11.

Last year Obama endorsed a strong shield law, but last month Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Jr. insisted that he must be able "to protect the national security and to prosecute any leaks."

There seems to have been a frenzy at the TSA to do something, anything, after the attempted Christmas day bombing.

Nevertheless, sources say that the TSA --- a wacky, bureaucratic burlesque, that is squandering monies on silly things and outdated strategies --- eventually they got what they wanted.

Dennis Schaal has an interesting update on this.

It gets pretty wild. He speculates that armed TSA agents ghost wrote a Tweet from Frischling's account in order to flush out his source.


#IranElection, Back With A Vengeance (on Twitter)

Today is a quiet day in the Twitter news cycle, with the Rose Bowl and the Outback Bowl and various other bowl games on TV along with hockey legends Bobby Orr and Bobby Clarke at the NHL Winter Classic, and reminiscences about #10yearsago and post-NYE nuggets about J.Lo and Kathy Griffin making the rounds. But I just came across a jarring tweet from new media entrepreneur and investor John Borthwick:

Screen shot 2010-01-01 at 4.22.51 PM

I went over to and these were two of a number of #IranElection-themed videos — unverifiable — but sadly timed to Sunday’s flare-up again of protests in Iran against the oppressive regime, and the crackdown of those protests in a sad and scary echo of last June (but at the worst possible time for the West’s attention span in the middle of the holidays). Borthwick’s observation about CNN notwithstanding, the #IranElection tag continues to stay strong on Twitter (649 new tweets in the last 5 or so minutes), including from influential tweeters like Alyssa Milano with 546,188 followers.

This next video is one that has been seen already across the web and TV the past week (including CNN), of a car backing up over a protestor (hard to watch, be warned). After that is a video called “Iran Interviews That Will Never Air” (there is a translation, as well as debate about the videos authenticity, in the comments). Both are reminders that a lot of what happened in 2009 will still echo on into 2010, both for good and ill. That is especially apparent in the unfolding story of #IranElection. Hopefully in 2010 the good will start to weigh out. Until then, what can you do but pay attention? See below.

Jay-Z is “On To The Next One” in 2010 (VIDEO)

Jay-Z debuted his latest video, “On To The Next One,” thematically last night on NBC’s New Year’s Eve countdown with Carson Daly, featuring rapper/producer produced by Swizz Beatz. Check it out below.

p.s. The “official” (but unverified) @JayZ twitter page has 99,688 followers, but this bitch ain’t one.

Fox, Time Warner Continue Fee Negotiations Past Deadline

LOS ANGELES — The Fox television network and Time Warner Cable reached a programming deal in principle on Friday, after leaving millions of people in the lurch about whether they'd be able to see an anticipated college football bowl game and other shows on cable TV.

Fox had threatened to force Time Warner Cable and another cable TV provider, Bright House Networks, to drop the Fox broadcast signal from 14 of its TV stations and half a dozen of its cable channels as a contract expired at midnight Thursday.

But signals were extended into Friday as talks continued, allowing more than 6 million cable subscribers in New York, Los Angeles, Orlando, Fla., and other markets to tune into the Sugar Bowl and other programming.

The deal, which included Bright House, ended a week of public sparring that had some consumers worried they'd miss the matchup between highly ranked Florida and Cincinnati that started at 8:30 p.m. EST.

"I think it's all corporate gamesmanship and consumers are caught in the crossfire," said Richard Anderson, a 55-year-old city manager in Apopka, Fla., who had eight people at his place ready to drive four miles to root for Florida at the residence of a friend who had satellite TV.

Anderson had tried unsuccessfully this week to get an injunction blocking Fox from pulling its signal.

Neither company would divulge the terms of the deal. Fox wanted to be paid $1 per cable subscriber each month for the broadcast signal it had once given away freely from the stations it owns. Other Fox affiliate stations that are owned by different companies had already cut deals to be paid by cable operators for a fraction of that fee.

"We're pleased that, after months of negotiations, we were able to reach a fair agreement with Time Warner Cable – one that recognizes the value of our programming," said Chase Carey, chief operating officer at News Corp., which owns Fox.

Time Warner Cable Inc. Chief Executive Glenn Britt said he was "happy to have reached a reasonable deal with no disruption in programming for our customers."

Politicians and regulators had gotten in on the dispute, especially because Fox sends its signals out freely on public airwaves on a frequency it obtained for nothing, with the obligation that it serve the public interest.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski congratulated both companies and his staff for the deal.

But Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., raised concerns about the effectiveness of a 1992 cable law that allows broadcasters to seek compensation from cable and satellite operators for their signals.

"I will reach out to both parties, the FCC, and consumer advocates to assess lessons learned from this dispute and what, if any, changes to law are necessary," Kerry said in a statement.

Fox said it could no longer give away its stations' signals to cable companies because the network is facing stiff competition from cable channels, such as the Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN, which earn subscriber fees on top of advertising dollars.

That dual revenue stream allowed ESPN to outbid Fox for high-priced events such as the college football Bowl Championship Series – including the Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Orange Bowl that are now on Fox – from 2011 to 2013.

Time Warner Cable, in the meantime, had vowed to hold the line on cable bill increases, and said the vast of majority of viewers who went to its Web site, , urged it to "get tough" and fight back against higher costs.

Neither side would have fared well if signals had been pulled.

Fox would have lost viewers and advertising dollars for some highly anticipated shows this month, including the 20th anniversary special of "The Simpsons" on Jan. 10, and the season premieres of "American Idol" on Jan. 12 and "24" on Jan. 17. It had urged viewers to go to its Web site, .

If the signal had been dropped, cable operators could have angered customers, who can switch to competitive television providers such as DirecTV or AT&T's U-verse that carry Fox programming.

Satellite TV provider Dish Network, which already has a deal with Fox, had been heavily advertising in newspapers, radio and TV telling Time Warner Cable customers, "Don't risk missing your favorite shows."

TV viewers could also have decided to cut off their cable entirely and watched the Fox broadcast network using an antenna with a digital TV or converter box.

Separately, Cablevision Systems Corp. said early Friday it had dropped HGTV and Food Network for its 3.1 million subscribers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in a fee dispute with Scripps Networks Interactive Inc., based in Cincinnati.

Time Warner Cable continued to carry Food Network and Great American Country under a temporary deal extension as its talks with Scripps continued.

Fox and CBS signals from Sinclair Broadcasting Group Inc. stations in markets such as Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, also continued to be carried by cable company Mediacom Communications Corp. in a temporary deal extension to Jan. 8.