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Time Warner-Hearst dispute affects North Country WMUR viewers

July 18, 2012
NORTH COUNTRY — A national pricing dispute between Time Warner Cable and Hearst Television has created problems for North Country cable viewers. Hearst's Manchester-based WMUR, the state's largest television station, is not currently available to Time Warner customers.

Time Warner is the cable provider for our region. Of the 13 affected Hearst stations, five are in New England.

According to WMUR, there are as many as 30,000 affected Time Warner subscribers in New Hampshire. This includes households from Keene through the North Country. WMUR went dark for Time Warner customers at midnight on July 10.

Those affected in our area can see WMUR's 6:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts on WMUR.com. This does not include the entire 30-minute show, however. The blogger Granite Geek notes that WMUR's sports are not part of the Internet broadcast because of the strict copyright stance taken by national sports leagues.

Frustrated customers have posted a range of comments on the Internet. A common concern is the lack of local broadcast news. "Northern NH will now have to depend on Maine coverage to get our NH news," one person posted. Laurie Payne concluded, "I for one do not need the other 185 channels that {Time Warner Cable} has decided we need to watch."

Scott Henley, Executive Director at Mount Washington Observatory, wrote, "Unfortunately, the viewers of the North Country are left in the crossfire of two sides that are equally to blame." Susan Lehane Lahout suggested, "This is what happens when there is no competition."

In other comments, Kate McCosham in Bethlehem wrote, "I will miss you WMUR but I think you are not being very loyal to your viewers who have been so loyal to you." Roxann Gonyer of Berlin concluded, "I don't think all the blame lies with one party . . . both parties need to get their act together."

A notice on WMUR's website levels all of the criticism at Time Warner. The cable giant "refuses to pay our station a reasonable fee relative to what it pays for other significantly less popular channels," WMUR states.

"Contrary to Time Warner's claim," the station continues, "we have not 'blacked out' our station." The station offers the customer service numbers for DirecTV (1-888-777-2454) and the DISH network (1-800-823-4929), satellite providers who still make WMUR available.

Time Warner counters that Hearst Television is making unreasonable fee demands. A spokesperson said that the Hearst request amounts to a 300 percent increase. Time Warner said that it remains interested in negotiations with Hearst.

The exact dollar amounts in dispute have not been publicly disclosed.

Contractual problems between television stations and content providers have increased in recent years. Another current national quarrel pits DirecTV against Viacom. Analysts suggest that such contractual spats are a reflection of the market challenges traditional companies face from the Internet and other newer mass media providers.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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