Cox Communications has reached an agreement to resume broadcasting the NBC affiliate in Baton Rouge and a sister station, ending a standoff over rates that deprived Cox viewers of an NFL playoff game, the Golden Globe Awards and other programs since New Year’s Day.
Cox said White Knight’s WVLA-NBC, serving Baton Rouge, Franklin/Patterson, and KZUP, serving Baton Rouge, Gramercy/Lutcher, would return to its cable network quickly.
The two had been in a standoff over rates Cox pays to White Knight to retransmit its programming.
During the skirmish, White Knight did not disclose how much it was asking Cox to pay, just that it wanted Cox to pay “fair market value for the NBC and local programming” it brings to viewers. The company noted on its website that Cox pays more than $7 per subscriber to carry ESPN and more than $1.65 for TNT.
Sharon Bethea, a Cox spokeswoman, had said that White Knight wanted to triple its retransmission fee.
In its statement Wednesday, Cox did not disclose the rate agreement.
“We appreciate our customers’ patience and support as we sought to reach a fair and reasonable agreement for our customers,” Cox said.
Retransmission fees have become an important source of profit for broadcasters, who have seen ad revenue dwindle, and is a growing source of contention with satellite and cable companies.
In 2015, there were 191 cases of local networks blacking out their broadcast signals to cable and satellite companies, according to figures from the American Television Alliance, a coalition of cable, satellite and telephone companies. That compares with 107 blackouts in 2014.
Retransmission fees hit $6.3 billion in 2015, according to SNL Kagan, which tracks the cable industry. At the current rate, the fees are expected to top $10.3 billion five years from now.
Under rules that went into effect in 1992, local stations are allowed a choice. Stations can either give their signals to cable companies, in which case they must be carried, or stations can choose to negotiate a separate agreement, usually for money or splitting commercial time with the cable company.
Because networks such as WVLA are carried for free over the air, cable companies have argued they shouldn’t have to pay to retransmit them.
Also under the current system, cable providers have to include local broadcast channels as part of the basic tier of service. That’s a move that drives up cable costs because customers have to pay the transmission costs, Ted Hearn, a spokesman for the American Cable Association, said recently.
“Broadcast and cable programmers are demanding too much money in a market environment where consumers are demanding more choice and options to escape the big bundles that the broadcasters and cable programmers want to retain at all costs,” Hearn said.
But the National Association of Broadcasters said retransmission fees are critical for local stations, which are sources for community news and emergency information.
“Eliminating broadcasters’ ability to negotiate for the value of broadcast signals would mean less choice for viewers and fewer resources for stations to dedicate to local news, public affairs programming, coverage of emergency weather events and community activities,” the NAB says on its website.