SBJ/20100816/SBJ In-Depth

Carriage talks have industry’s attention

Several sports channels are in the middle of intense carriage negotiations with distributors.

Tops among them are ESPN’s talks with Time Warner Cable. Contracts for Disney’s entire suite of channels with the country’s second-biggest multisystem operator expire at the beginning of September, and both sides have argued their case publicly through a series of advertisements.

TNT’s contract with Comcast expires at the end of the year, sources said. Turner also is negotiating new carriage deals for CNN and Headline News.

The TNT negotiations will be Turner’s first since it partnered with CBS on a 14-year, $11 billion deal for the rights to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Turner completed a carriage deal with Comcast for truTV last year, before it picked up rights to the event.

Turner is certain to seek a healthy increase for TNT. The company used the promise of higher license fees as a reason for shouldering the bulk of the NCAA rights fee. Turner will begin carrying the Final Four in 2016, which is when distributors should see the biggest license fee increases.

Even with expected increases, these carriage negotiations with Comcast should stay under the radar. With its pending acquisition of NBC still under review, Comcast has been reluctant to get into public squabbles with programmers. Earlier this month, the cable operator surprised the industry by announcing a carriage deal it signed with CBS. Many did not realize that the two were negotiating.

Fox also is negotiating carriage deals for its channels with Cablevision, Dish Network and Mediacom, sources said.

Fox was embroiled in a carriage battle with Cablevision last year and threatened to pull its broadcast channel from the cable operator’s New York-area systems before Game 5 of the American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Angels (SportsBusiness Journal, Nov. 9-15, 2009, issue).

The two wound up signing a one-year extension that expires at the end of October. At the time, it was believed that Cablevision wanted to wait and let Time Warner set the market. Fox and Time Warner wound up signing a deal, which included a retransmission consent payment for the broadcasters, just after New Year’s.

Fox’s deals with Dish Network and Mediacom, the country’s eighth-largest MSO, expire at the end of the year.

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