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Local TV news departments ignore 10 million reasons for TWC increase

By Alan Pergament

I watched the local TV news departments report Tuesday on Time Warner Cable's 6.4 percent rate increase.

I didn't see any of the stations mention that a good deal of that rate hike was being used to pay them.

TWC certainly wanted subscribers to know that $2.25 per month was for the right to transmit the signals of the local network affiliates even though they are available in most homes for free with antennas.

That's why TWC separated the fee from the other rate hikes for its cable, internet and equipment packages.

You do the math. OK, I'll do it for you. That's $30 a year from every subscriber to pay for channels that most can get for free. Since TWC has 335,940 WNY subscribers, they are collectively paying more than $10 million a year to get the local channels.

You might have thought that the local news departments would have thought that key detail was worth reporting. However, perhaps they didn't want to emphasize being one of the reasons for a larger than usual cable rate hike.

The closest anyone came to acknowledging the retransmission fee cost was in a line of the script read by Channel 4 anchor Don Postles about a story that mentioned everything but the $2.25 fee. He ended by saying "Time Warner says the rate hike is due to the rising cost of broadcasters program fees."

I'm pretty sure many viewers didn't understand that line and certainly were unlikely to think that Channel 4's owner deserved part of the blame.

Channel 2 anchor Kelly Dudzik's copy noted that a TWC spokeman said the rate was due to "increased cost of programming." Once again, her own station was spared blame.

In the past year or two, the out-of-town owners of Channel 4 and Channel 23 (LIN Media), and Channel 29 and Channel 49 (Sinclair) have engaged in contentious retransmission consent fee disputes with TWC that ended at the 11th hour. The out-of-town owners of Channel 2 (Gannett) and Channel 7 (Granite) also made deals without as much drama. 

None of the parties ever revealed what it cost TWC to carry the stations and what it would ultimately cost subscribers.

The 6.4 percent average rate hike that begins in many WNY homes next month followed a couple of TWC increases in August for a modem fee ($2.04 more monthly) and for internet ($3 more monthly).

The 6.4 percent increase also was more than double the 2.6 rate hike that TWC announced almost a year earlier on Feb.18, 2013.

That's probably why TWC chose to tell us what it is charging subscribers for the local channels.

I'm all for such disclosure.

In fact, now that TWC is telling is what it is charging us for the local channels it should go several steps further and tell us what it is charging us for each and every cable channel it carries.

Of course, the chance of that happening is about equal to the chance that the Buffalo Sabres will make the playoffs.

TWC never really announced the rate hike to the media. It just responded to a request from the Buffalo News for details after subscribers were sent out fliers telling them the increase was coming. It would also like you to know its competition also routinely raises its rates.

According to figures supplied by a TWC spokesman, the $2.25 monthly fee for local stations is only 75 cents less than the $3 per month internet increase.

TWC also is raising the standard TV tier by $2 a month, the preferred tier (formerly the digital tier) by an additional $1.01 a month, and the fee for a box, remote and guide by $1.26.

Add it all up and that's $9.52 a month extra before taxes for the 30 percent of subscribers who don't have packages.

The other 70 percent of subscribers are in for rate increases when their deals end, though the TWC spokesman said the cable system will continue its practice of dealing with them the same way as they have in the past when deals expire.

"We're confident we can work with every customer to find a package of services that match their interests and budget," said the spokesman.

In other words, when your package deal expires, call TWC before you panic. It just might give you a better deal to keep you.

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