Wednesday, January 02, 2013

WAFB, KPEL, others go dark on Cox Cable (updated)

The company that owns WAFB, KPEL and Cox communications has failed to reach an agreement and these stations are no longer being aired on Cox's cable network. (WBXH, a subsidiary station of WAFB, and WPGX out of Pensacola have also vanished from the Cox Acadiana lineup. Cox's message boards and its facebook page are filled with unhappy customers.

File:Cox logo.svgHere in Lafayette Cox customers can switch to LUS Fiber, in parts of Baton Rouge they can move to ATT and there is always EATEL down Gonzales way. Beyond that most folks don't have a wireline alternative. 

The whole fracas goes back to ongoing "retransmission consent" battles that grew out of a Federal law passed back in 1992 that, for the first time, allowed local stations to charge for their carriage. Prior to that time cable companies could simply grab the signal off the air and, without consent, retransmit it over their wires for their own profit. That, in fact, is pretty much the way cable got its start. After the passage of the new law the advantage initially went to the cable companies who provided access to households that could  be sold by the local stations to advertisers. Local stations asked for a good spot on the lineup corresponding to their broadcast channel but didn't generally ask for a money. But with falling local revenues and the spectacle of "cable networks" charging truly outlandish fees and setting conditions that often pushed local channels out of their cherished historical channel locations local stations have begun demanding—and getting—retransmission fees for their unique content. Compared to what some of the large channels charge, the fees for local channels are pretty much chump change. If Cox and the others give in it simply isn't enough over the entire cost of their programming to much effect the amount they charge you. But it is a fee the big cablecos are not used to paying and the local guys can often be selectively targeted for defeat without a lot of danger to the cableco on a national level....unlike HBO and ESPN who simply cannot be defied.  

Frankly neither Raycom, the stations' corporate owners, nor Cox is acting in your interest. It's all about the money and where each side sees the opportunity to squeeze the other. 

I've got a soft spot for local stations that are actually locally owned and local cable/internet providers. They've got an entirely different framework from which to work—they can't treat a local loss as a risk worth taking; it's one thing to lose a small fraction of a percentage point of your users to some down south local retransmission conflict. It's another thing altogether to lose something that all your customers want to watch. (Which is why Cox will never take such a "noble" stand against HBO and ESPN. They don't have the spine to fight with folks their own size.)

Buy local.

From the horses' mouths: Cox, WAFB, KPLC

click for larger version
Update 1/4/13: WAFB in Baton Rouge is running a half page advertisement in the Advocate suggesting that the additional fees they are asking for would amount to a two cent increase in the price of a Cox bill. Like I said, chump change.

Click the photo on the right for a larger, readable version of the ad; it is pretty entertaining. 

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