SBJ/October 15-21, 2012/Media

It’s showdown time as NBC Universal enters negotiations to extend carriage deals

The cable TV market will test the strength of Comcast’s NBC acquisition shortly, as NBC Universal’s carriage deals with some of the country’s biggest distributors expire at the end of the year, according to several sources.

NBC’s affiliate group, led by Matt Bond, executive vice president of content distribution, will be negotiating extensions for its cable channels with Dish Network and Charter — distributors that represent more than 18 million subscribers.

At the same time, NBC will have to negotiate a new deal with the National Cable Television Cooperative, an organization of 900 small-to-midsized cable operators that represent 25 million subscribers.

These talks, which will include NBC Sports Network and the Comcast SportsNet regional sports networks, will mark the first big carriage negotiations for the group since Comcast acquired NBC in January 2011. The combined broadcast and cable assets of the two companies add a level of complexity to these deals that has not surrounded these channels before.

The timing of the negotiations is not great for NBC Sports Network, in particular, as its highest-rated programming generally comes from NHL games and the league is in the middle of a work stoppage. Cable operators pay an average 31 cents per subscriber per month for NBC Sports Network, according to figures from SNL Financial.

These types of carriage negotiations between programmers and distributors frequently become public and contentious. Occasionally, subscribers lose access to the channels when talks reach an impasse.

Dish Network, which has more than 14 million subscribers, has been embroiled in several public spats recently that have involved dropping channels. The satellite operator had a dispute with Big Ten Network last month that has since been resolved. But before it was resolved, BTN went dark on Dish Network systems for about a week.

Sources say NBC will have to negotiate its entire lineup of cable channels with Dish Network. Charter, which has more than 4 million subscribers, also will negotiate for all of NBC’s cable channels, sources said.

As for NCTC, NBC is negotiating for up to 18 networks. Last year, NCTC signed Golf Channel, E! and Style to deals through 2015. The group’s deal with NBC Sports Network expired earlier this year, though the two sides worked out an extension that ends in December.

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