Squabble leaves TV viewers in the dark

A squabble between Charter Spectrum cable company and Northwest Broadcasting has left cable subscribers without access to the broadcaster's programming.

Cable subscribers from Yuma, Arizona, and Jackson, Wyoming, to Crescent City and Medford haven't been able to see their favorite sitcoms aired on certain FOX channels since Feb. 2.

For Rogue Valley viewers, programming on FOX Channel 13, KMVU, has been replaced with a video by Charter blaming Northwest Broadcasting for the blackout. National Fox stations such as Fox News and Fox Sports 1 are not affected by the dispute.

Viewers can still see KMVU via a TV antenna on broadcast Channel 26.

KMVU is a local Fox affiliate broadcasting to the Rogue Valley and Klamath areas and the Shasta Cascade region of Northern California. It's owned by Stainless Broadcasting, a Northwest Broadcasting subsidiary.

CEOs for both Charter Spectrum and Northwest Broadcasting have taken to social media and websites to explain the standoff, with each company alleging the other is to blame.

Northwest Broadcasting CEO Brian Brady penned a letter apologizing to “all Spectrum customers” affected by the failure of the negotiations, which he said began last June, and explained that Spectrum representatives ignored efforts by his company to reach an agreement before the contract expired Jan. 31.

“Two weeks before the contract was to expire, we were told by their representative that they would not counter our recent proposal and that if we wanted to give them another number they would tell us if they would agree to it,” Brady said in the letter, which can be viewed at http://www.fox26medford.com/bring-kmvu-back/).

Following more failed negotiations, Brady said, discussions inched up until just before kickoff to last weekend’s Super Bowl.

“We then offered them an extension until Friday at 5 p.m. in order for us to work together so as to avoid any disruption. Friday afternoon with the new deadline looming they sent us a counter offer that was going to need work. Knowing it was going to take more time, we offered another extension through 5 p.m. Saturday and said let’s roll up our sleeves and get this figured out,” Brady stated in his letter.

“Their response was they wanted to extend until Monday so their subscribers could watch the Super Bowl before they took the stations down. Perplexed by what they had said (the Super Bowl aired on NBC), we repeated our offer to extend until Saturday at 5, and if we didn’t come to an agreement we would deal with another extension at that time. Their next response was, “we are taking your station down in the next 10 minutes,” and they hung up the phone. We haven’t heard from them since.”

On Friday, in an interview with the Mail Tribune, Brady said he learned that the domain northwestfairdeal.com — on which Charter blames Northwest Broadcasting and claims it was "demanding a ridiculous increase in programming fees" — was purchased by Charter on Jan. 18, two weeks before the negotiation deadline.

Brady cried foul.

“Let’s talk about the fact they walked away for two weeks, then said, ‘Give us another extension,’ but during that time they purchased that domain name because they knew what they were going to do,” Brady said.

“This was all premeditated.”

Spectrum released an official statement and answers to most common questions being posed by subscribers on northwestfairdeal.com.

The web page contends that Northwest Broadcasting removed its programming from Spectrum “to create hardship for our customers, while we are negotiating in good faith to reach a fair agreement.”

The page goes on to state that Northwest insisted on a more than 75 percent increase in programming fees and that pulling channels from distributors is a known “negotiating tactic” of Northwest. It said that Northwest was "demanding to be paid more than what we pay any other broadcast station for the same services."

Bret Picciolo, regional communications director for Charter, replied to an interview request via email Thursday that “Northwest’s fee increase demand of over 75 percent is outrageous, especially given that their programming is available free over the air and online."

Medford resident Kathy Wayne called the situation frustrating and ridiculous. Wayne said she realized the local FOX channel wasn’t on the air when her recorded shows were an hour’s worth of recorded screen time of Charter's video about the blackout.

“It’s politics, basically," she said. "We all know you can’t call and get a hold of a human being to save your life, but what are they going to say, anyway, if you’re just calling to whine and complain? They don’t care,” Wayne said.

“I think they could’ve worked it out before it got to this. It feels a little bit like the viewers are being held hostage.”

Both Brady’s statement and the web page posted by Spectrum include phone numbers and email links for subscribers to voice their concerns.

— Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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