Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania


January 10, 2012

Two Harrisburg television stations could disappear from Verizon's FiOS network by Friday unless negotiations on a new re-transmission agreement are concluded in the next three days. Possibly at risk for FiOS subscribers are two NFL playoff games this weekend.

Talks are continuing to keep programming from WHP CBS 21 and WLYH CW 15 available to an estimated 30,000 Verizon FiOS subscribers in the region, a lawyer involved in the negotiations said Monday. "There is an offer on the table from me," said Michael DiPasquale, who is handling negotiations for Newport Television, which owns 60 television stations across the country, including WHP, WLYH and MyNetwork 21.2. "I'm hoping we reach an agreement. We want to keep Verizon FiOS as an option for our viewers."

At issue is the amount of money Verizon FiOS, which offers bundled Internet, telephone and television service via a fiber optics network, pays for the right to re-transmit the signals of WHP and WLYH to its subscribers. Such re-transmission agreements are routine in the broadcast industry, and Newport has deals in place for re-transmission of its signals to other providers such as Comcast, Dish Network and DirecTV.

Verizon spokesman John Bonomo said Monday that negotiations are based on efforts to reach an agreement that is in the best interests of FiOS subscribers. "To date, Verizon has reached agreements with all other broadcasters in Harrisburg, and Verizon has repeatedly offered Newport fair fees consistent with the marketplace, but so far Newport has refused our offers," according to a statement from Verizon issued Monday.

Neither side would comment Monday on the prospects for a settlement, but an announcement on the WHP 21 website at struck a pessimistic note. "Based on current status of those negotiations" the statement read, "we do not believe Verizon FiOS will be carrying either WHP CBS 21 or WLYH CW 15 after January 12th, 2012."

Among programming offered by the two local stations are popular CBS shows such as "NCIS," and "The Mentalist" and CW hits such as "The Vampire Diaries" and "Supernatural." Also at risk could be this weekend's NFL playoff games between the Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots at 8 p.m. Saturday, and the Baltimore Ravens versus the Houston Texans at 1 p.m. Sunday. DiPasquale estimated that Verizon FiOS has about 30,000 subscribers in central Pennsylvania who could be affected by a cutoff. Bonomo declined to give a number of local subscribers, but said Verizon FiOS has about 4 million television customers nationwide.

Holly Steuart, general manager for WHP and WLYH, said viewers who receive the local channels via other cable and satellite providers would not be affected by the Verizon FiOS negotiations, nor would anyone receiving free signals over the air via a home antenna. Harrisburg Patriot-News

In the wide world of pay-to-see sports channels, add this new one: the Universal Sports Network. Removed from free over-the-air TV in the Philadelphia area and 51 other cities on Jan. 1, the channel is now available only behind the pay wall on cable and satellite.

Part of the boom in 24-hour sports programming, Universal Sports is partly owned by Comcast/NBCUniversal and joins a crowded field of sports channels on pay TV, where, increasingly, viewers find professional, amateur, and college athletics. Universal Sports' rights portfolio comprises deals with 16 international and six U.S. sports federations. It presents 1,200 hours a year of skiing, figure skating, track and field, and swimming. In addition, the channel shows endurance races such as the New York and Boston Marathons.

For those without cable who watched Universal Sports on over-the-air NBC stations, the decision came as a letdown. "I liked it because it had all different sports," said Jane Meyers, 58, of Wynnefield. "And it had a lot of sports that you didn't see on [free] TV anymore." Getting cable or satellite isn't an option, she said, "because of the bills coming in the door." Meyers watched on an NBC10 multicast channel. Such channels became available after TV broadcasters switched to digital signals from analog, a conversion ordered by the U.S. government that was completed in 2009.

Digital signals allow TV stations to broadcast more than one channel over the air. One of the rationales for multicasting was to make more programming available to free-TV viewers. "Universal Sports is easily my favorite station," Al Richardson, a resident of Fort Worth, Texas, who regularly visits the Philadelphia area, said in an e-mail. "Year-round, it carries mostly Olympic sports that are hard or impossible to find anywhere else. . . . The coverage is good, with a lot of the Olympic announcers and of course the same athletes. It's a shame this great sports network has been yanked."

David Sternberg, chief executive officer of Universal Sports Network, based in a Los Angeles suburb, said the sports channel had built an audience through its multicasting and always had planned to pursue the pay-TV model. He estimated Universal Sports reached about 36 million homes through over-the-air multicasting. Though Universal Sports now will reach fewer homes, the pay-TV model offers a dual revenue stream through subscriber fees and advertising. The traditional over-the-air TV model offers only one source of revenue, advertising.

The largest pay-TV provider to agree to distribute Universal Sports so far is satellite giant DirecTV, the nation's second-largest pay operator. Comcast Corp. is the largest. DirecTV has put the sports channel in an extra-charge sports package. Universal Sports is "far along" in negotiations with other pay-TV providers, Sternberg said. The network, he said, is not averse to being put in a sports package - which has been a point of contention between Comcast and the sports channels NFL Network, Tennis Channel, and the Big Ten Network.

Universal Sports is owned by the media-investment fund InterMedia Partners L.P. and NBCUniversal, which is jointly owned by Comcast and General Electric Co. NBCUniversal recently rebranded the Versus sports channel as the NBC Sports Network to compete more directly with ESPN. NBCUniversal says it has a minority, noncontrolling ownership in the Universal Sports Network. Philadelphia Inquirer