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Channels 4, 23 pulled from cable provider Time Warner, LIN continue negotiations

Channel 4 and Channel 23 were dropped from Time Warner Cable's system shortly after the midnight deadline Thursday when the stations' parent company, LIN Broadcasting, couldn't reach a national agreement with TWC to keep the stations on the air.

Robin Wolfgang, Time Warner spokesman, said LIN "refused to let Time Warner transmit the stations" after its current deal expired.

"We will continue to negotiate," said Wolfgang. "At this point LIN wouldn't grant us a 24-hour extension."

Time Warner immediately replaced CBS programming normally carried on Channel 4 with programming from the CBS College Sports Network and put HBO Family on Channel 23, the local CW affiliate.

The issue is over money.

LIN TV, which owns the local CBS and CW affiliates, wants to be compensated by Time Warner for allowing it to carry the stations.

Weeks ago, a LIN release stated that the television group -- which has 15 of its stations in Time Warner markets -- has reached agreements with every other cable, satellite or telecommunications company to carry its stations.

Time Warner believes it shouldn't pay for channels that are available over the air for free. Weeks ago, Time Warner noted that the cable system has "successfully reached fair agreements with hundreds of broadcasters and cable networks across the country in recent years and are confident we will with LIN TV, too." The issue is being handled by the corporate offices of both companies, not in Western New York, and affects all LIN stations and Time Warner systems.

Channel 4, the local CBS affiliate, has been repeatedly carrying explanations of the issue that ask cable subscribers not to allow Time Warner to deprive viewers of the popular programming on the stations. Channel 4 carries some of the area's highest-rated programs and most Buffalo Bills games.

However, Time Warner's Wolfgang said it was LIN's decision whether to pull the stations.

A local television executive, who requested anonymity, believes Wolfgang's position on which company would make the call is accurate.

"Once an agreement is no longer in place, it would be the decision of the seller [LIN], not the buyer [Time Warner]," the executive said.

The executive added: "In every one of these negotiations, a deal has been struck. It never lasts longer than a few days. There is too much at stake on both sides."

Both sides stand to lose substantially -- locally and nationally -- if a deal isn't reached quickly.

Channel 4 could lose a substantial amount of viewers for its No. 1 newscasts, CBS' popular prime time schedule and the Bills game Sunday in Arizona and that would translate into lost advertising dollars.

Time Warner could lose subscribers to satellite television and other competitors that carry the two LIN channels.

Of course, local viewers also can get the Bills game and CBS and CW programming with an indoor or outdoor antenna.

The negotiations are being closely watched by the owners of Channel 2 and Channel 7, which eventually will deal with the same issues. Sinclair Broadcasting, the owner of Channel 29 and Channel 49, made a deal in January of 2007 that is believed to have resulted in Time Warner agreeing to buy advertising on the stations.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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