December 20, 2013

Time Warner will keep NECN after protests

Subscribers and politicians convince the company to reverse its plan to drop New England Cable News.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Time Warner Cable is abandoning plans to drop New England Cable News from its lineup at year’s end, reversing a decision that prompted protests from customers and lawmakers across the region.

“Time Warner Cable customers who currently have access to NECN will continue to have access after Jan. 1, 2014; there will be no disruption in service,” the company said in a statement Friday. “NECN has now agreed to work with our leadership at Time Warner Cable News to improve the quality of their local programming for our customers.”

Time Warner declined to comment further. NECN did not return repeated calls seeking comment, but did send a statement from general manager Michael St. Peter that read in part, “We are thrilled Time Warner heard their customers’ voices and will continue to carry NECN.”

Citing such factors as cost, viewership, and unique content, Time Warner announced on Dec. 11 that it would drop NECN in Maine, western Massachusetts, and parts of Vermont and New Hampshire. The announcement came after a breakdown in negotiations over the fees Time Warner pays to include NECN in its channel lineup. Time Warner has more than 300,000 subscribers in Maine.

NECN, a 24-hour regional network based in Newton, Mass., covers news across New England. It is owned by NBC Universal, which was purchased earlier this year by Comcast Corp., a giant cable provider that competes with Time Warner.

“It’s very easy for the large cable operators to overlook the regional programmers. They don’t wield as much power or have the deep pockets of an HBO or ESPN,” said Paul Niwa, associate professor and interim chairman of the journalism department at Emerson College in Boston.

Fights involving cable operators and programmers are common. In a contract fight in August, Time Warner pulled broadcast network CBS from its channel lineup in markets such as Los Angeles, New York and Dallas before reaching an agreement a month later. The blackout prompted more than 306,000 subscribers to cancel their Time Warner subscriptions.

“Really, these disputes come down to money. How much does Time Warner pay for programming and who else loses channel space if NECN comes back?” Niwa said.

The decision to drop NECN prompted complaints from viewers and lawmakers.“Our offices heard from many constituents around Maine who were upset that they would lose access to the New England coverage that NECN provides. We are pleased that Time Warner and NECN worked together to reach an agreement that is good for the companies and their customers,” Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and independent U.S. Sen. Angus King said in a joint statement.

On Wednesday, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who represents the state’s 1st District, wrote to Time Warner Cable Chief Executive Glenn Britt, asking him to reconsider the decision to drop NECN.

“I’m glad that Time Warner listened to the customers in Maine and throughout New England who didn’t want to lose access to the 24-hour regional news coverage that they get from NECN. It was clear that there is a demand for the service . . ., especially in rural areas of Maine,” Pingree said in a statement.

Last week, three members of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation sent a similar letter to Time Warner, urging the company to reverse its decision to drop NECN in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts.

“Christmas has come early for the Berkshires with Time Warner’s decision to continue carrying NECN in its channel lineup,” Sen. Edward Markey D-Mass, said in a statement. “I commend Time Warner for listening to its customers and reversing its decision.”

NECN on Friday pulled a protest advertisement that was scheduled to run in this week’s Maine Sunday Telegram, according to Barbara Bock, vice president of advertising at MaineToday Media Inc., which owns the Portland Press Herald.

The advertisement urged NECN viewers to contact Time Warner Cable to complain about the planned move to drop the channel.

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of MaineToday Media.

Jessica Hall may be reached at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@pressherald.com

Twitter: @JessicaHallPPH

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