Update (1:11 PM): We’ve just heard from WCVB and they will be carried on all local cable systems including RCN and Norwood Light Broadband in the new year. At this time, the page on WCVB’s site has not been updated to reflect this yet.
If you watch WCVB, the local ABC affiliate in Boston (aka Channel 5), you may have noticed the “Programming Alert” banner scrolling at the bottom of the screen. WCVB’s parent company, Hearst, and a couple of local cable companies have not come to an agreement to carry the station past today, December 31st, 2012. Furthermore, the situation is not unique to WCVB with many local stations across the country having their carriage agreements expire at the end of this year. However, with a few exceptions, Multi-Channel News points out that many of them have now been resolved.
According to WCVB (link now removed), RCN and Norwood Light Broadband are the only systems that have not renewed their agreement to carry WCVB. A week ago, the list was much longer with Metrocast, Shrewsbury Electric and Cable, Beld/Braintree Electric, Agrent Communications and Southern Vermont Cable. RCN serves a significant number of communities in metro Boston including communities such as Arlington, Framingham, Newtown, Stoneham, Waltham, Woburn and significant parts of the city of Boston. As WCVB carries popular programs such as Dancing with the Stars, Desperate Housewives and the most popular local newscast in the Boston area, the outage will not go unnoticed.
If this was just a dispute over retransmission fees between two parties, it would have been solved by now. In fact, it’s a lot more complicated than that. TVNewsCheck does a great job explaining some of the forces at work here. To summarize: The major networks demand a cut of the retransmission fees from local affiliates like WCVB since they supply them with most of their prime-time programming. On the other side, cable operators face pressure from the rising cost of channels such as ESPN. You’re paying for those high-priced contracts to carry NFL games.
Typically, these disuputes get worked out in the eleventh hour. Hearst and RCN did not provide any comment on this story. While Hearst has made customers aware of the situation, the tone has been factual. It’s not like the recent public battle between DirecTV and Fox that turned nasty.