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Cable, broadcast clashes as CBS remains dark on TWC

Under the Dome largeTime Warner Cable viewers are facing a fourth day without leading broadcast network CBS as an explosive row over controversial retransmission fees escalated over the weekend.

CBS went dark on on Friday in the US after carriage negotiations between Time Warner-owned cable platform TWC and CBS Corp. broke down last week with both sides flinging accusations at each other.

This marks the first time in its history CBS has dropped from any platform.

In the US, cablecos pay retransmission fees to air the leading broadcast networks, and with TV advertising revenue and channel shares under threat, networks are seeking higher remuneration to make up some of the shortfall.

Analyst SNL Kagan has previously predicted retrains fee revenue could double by 2018 to more than US$6 billion.

Viewers tuning into CBS on TWC are currently met with a message claiming CBS had “demanded an outrageous increase” in fees for programming that “CBS delivers for free over the air and online”.

The cable platform said it was taking a stand against the price increases and suggested subscribers use antennas and cbs.com to access shows such as popular miniseries Under the Dome. It is also offering shows from Starz Kids and Family as a temporary replacement.

However, CBS has blocked TWC customers from accessing its shows via its website.

The broadcaster released a statement claiming TWC had “conducted negotiations in a combative and non-productive spirit, indulging in pointless brinksmanship and distorted public positioning – such as the fictional and ridiculous 600% increase CBS supposedly demanded – while maintaining antiquated positions no longer held by any other programming distributor in the business”.

The statement added CBS was “eager to make an agreement in line with the kind it has struck with every other cable, satellite and telco provider” and that its terms were “reasonable”.

TWC has also taken CBS-owned cable channel Showtime, which currently offers shows such as the final season of Dexter and new hit drama Ray Donovan, off its EPG.

Showtime Networks released its own statement, which in part read: “Showtime has been working in good faith with Time Warner Cable to work out a contract, and is deeply disappointed with Time Warner Cable’s decision to pull Showtime channels.”

It noted cities affected by the blackout include New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Boston, Tampa, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, San Diego, Columbus, Cincinnati and Detroit; and urged its customers to call a TWC contact line to demand a re-installation.

Other CBS  channels affected by the current situation include Smithsonian Channel, TMC and Flix.

In an unusual move that demonstrates the growing divide between cablecos and broadcasters, DirecTV released a statement supporting its rival TWC.

“Just like the characters in CBS’ Under The Dome, all pay TV customers are feeling trapped and helpless as broadcasters expect them to absorb ridiculous rate increases for the exact same programming,” it read. “In trying to protect our own customers, DirecTV has certainly had its share of these battles, so we applaud Time Warner Cable for fighting back against exorbitant programming cost increases.”

DirecTV added it was “appalled” that its customers that use TWC as an internet provider could no longer access CBS content online.

The statement added: “The conduct of content companies in their efforts to extract outrageous fees from distributors and consumers may have reached a new low.”